Since the late ‘70s, so many things have changed in education. Back then, we never heard teachers even mention the ITBS (Iowa Test of Basic Skills, which we took, although we were in Illinois) until a day or two before the exam. Throughout the year, we weren’t subjected to endless benchmarks and worksheets based on “the test.” Our teachers delved into the subject matter and concentrated more on depth than breadth. Because teachers were allowed to truly teach, when the test day arrived, we were well-prepared for the exam.

“Back in the day,” as my students would say, students rarely spoke to a teacher with disrespect. When it did happen, the student could expect swift consequences both at school and at home. It was common for parents to demand that their child apologize to the teacher, as well.

So many things have changed in education since the late ‘70s, but one thing remains the same. Academic, athletic, musical and other extra-curricular activities play an important role in the lives of so many of our students.

I thought about this last week as I sat at the scorekeeper’s table at the McAllen High School wrestling match. It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than 30 years since I boarded the bus with my high school wrestling team so I could “keep the book” at their matches. I tried to remember how I started doing it, but the memory eluded me. But what I recall vividly is riding with the team to the matches, cheering for my friends on the team, and feeling like an integral part of that team.

Six years ago when Tom Shawhan started the wrestling team at McHi, he asked me to be the timekeeper. He asked my friend and co-worker, Deborah Arney, to keep the books. Deborah kept the books years ago for the wrestling team at her high school in Michigan. Finally, wrestling, “the toughest six minutes in sports,” had arrived in McAllen, and Deborah and I could hardly wait. Take-down, escape, reversal, near fall. The wrestling register quickly returned.

Last week, I watched McHi wrestling coaches Craig Krell and Jason Walker prepare the team for the season’s first meet. I thought about what a difference these extra-curricular activities make in our students’ lives. If they are school-related, students have to earn passing grades to compete. This is a driving force for many students. I thought about the discipline they learn, too, from having to condition their minds and bodies to finding time to study between practices, and from competing and performing to being a part of a team and having to learn how to support and encourage their teammates.

One of McHi’s new wrestlers was within seconds of winning his first match by only two points. His opponent worked feverishly to reverse control in the match, which would have tied the score and sent the match into overtime, where the wrestler who gets the first take-down wins. The team and the crowd began screaming to the wrestler, encouraging him to hold on just a few seconds longer. Suddenly, the tiring hands holding his opponent regained strength and the buzzer rang. The McHi wrestler felt the thrill of victory, and his excitement radiated from his face as the referee raised his arm among cheers from the crowd.

I always try to encourage my students to get involved in extra-curricular activities at school or in the community. Whether it be volunteering to pack food boxes at their church, taking karate or dance from local instructors, playing on a team at the Boys’ and Girls’ Club, or joining a UIL academic team or playing sports, it has been my experience that involved students learn to relieve the stresses of everyday life in a healthy manner while having fun and using their talents and skills.

NOTE: The crowd at Valley high school wrestling matches continues to grow. If you’ve never been to a match, I encourage you to go. It can be intense and exciting, and it definitely is “the toughest six minutes in sports.”

Chris Ardis is in her 27th year of teaching, 26 of those with McAllen ISD. Visit her web site at www.chrisardis.com for education news and to read articles by McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez, Shelley Bryant, Edna Posada, Dr. Ben Aguilar and Lorena Castillo.