Physical fitness and mental sharpness go hand in hand.
That’s the general consensus of education research.
It is what prompted the decision by the Manteca Unified School District board in 2016 to not just restore the taxpayer-funded Acorn League for elementary sports after it was kept alive by fee-based Manteca United Student Trust for a decade after district funding was dropped in 2006 due to the budget crisis, but to make it more robust. That investment of $262,445 appears to be starting to pay off.
Participation in the fall sports — cross country and volleyball — was up 25 percent going from 804 in the initial season of Acorn League version 2.0 in 2016 to 1,005 this year. Perhaps most important was the biggest jump was in cross country — an individual pursuit that requires sustained cardio that saw a jump of 154 runners at the fourth through sixth grade level to 348.
The assumption based on research is that when youth develop “lifetime fitness skills” they can carry with them into adulthood that includes activities such as running it serves to improve health, reduce obesity, fend off stress, and sharpen mental agility.
And even though volleyball is a team sport with limited roster space, several elementary schools had extra athletes on practice squads so students could work on their skill levels as well as stay in shape. In addition, more elementary athletes are attending sports clinics offered at the district’s high schools.
Basketball is about to get under way while track is the spring sport. Last year, all 20 elementary schools fielded basketball teams. There were 259 girls and 269 boys participating. For track, the first season had 604 runners in the fourth through sixth grades and 388 runners in the seventh and eighth grades.
Tevani Liotard, director of the Acorn League, noted while no data has been collected, research indicate such organized sports programs at the elementary level usually lead to improvement in grades, better discipline, as well as better student attendance and improved involvement in school ranging from academics to other offerings.
The biggest changes from the original district Acorn League that went to the wayside in 2006 has been aligning the Acorn League Handbook with the high school athletic handbook. It provides continuity in terms of expectation of students and how they must perform in school to qualify for the sports teams. Flag football and softball were dropped from the original Acorn League and replaced with boys’ volleyball as well boys and girls cross country that has allowed a greater uptick in participation. The move was also based on the fact the high schools were adding boys volleyball. Also, given the number of softball and baseball options for youth in the community it was decided resources could be better spent on other sports not readily offered locally
Liotard indicated several of the high school cross country coaches have expressed excitement about the potential impact the Acorn League may have on their programs in four to six years.
The $262,455 covered coaching stipends, basketball officials, supplies, and awards.
The Acorn League was established to serve as a developmental sports program. Students learn the fundamentals of the sport, rules, and sportsmanship among Manteca Unified elementary schools.
Unlike with MUST, there is no fee to participate in Acorn sports.
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