When Northern Lehigh plays Northwestern in any sport, it's quite the rivalry. Whether it is football or baseball, there are things the fans don't see and hear; things like a little individual taunting or that extra effort given when playing for pride.

Some of those same athletes who so passionately competed against each other are now playing on the same team in Legion baseball. They act like they're the best of friends. They work well together.

But that's how it is with sports. The same thing is true whether Marian plays Tamaqua or Jim Thorpe plays Panther Valley. The players toss friendship out the window when the play clock is running or when they're on their respective high school fields. It's forgotten, though, when the event ends.

The Northern Valley Legion baseball team has players not only from Northern Lehigh and Northwestern, but Lehighton and Palmerton, too.

This is why school boards, which are having difficult times balancing budgets, must not get rid of sports programs. There are many good qualities in athletics.

For example:

Ÿ Sports programs are an incentive for a student to study. Without good grades, the student is disqualified from participation. In fact, sometimes sports provide the financial pass to a college education.

Ÿ Work ethics are taught. Students in sports know the meaning of dedication and commitment. Athletes have to show up for practices, yet find time for studying.

Ÿ Teamwork is stressed. People on sports teams know that just as others depend on them, they also must depend on their teammates.

Ÿ Participation in sports is quality time. Most athletes prefer working to improve their conditioning instead of wasting idle time watching too much TV, hanging out on street corners, or even taking drugs. It's true that many pro athletes have been exposed for drug problems. This isn't true of the overwhelming majority of athletes.

Understandably some very difficult decisions must be made regarding school budgets. Hopefully sports programs won't be cut. Even if a small fee is levied on participants, the alternative could have bad long-term effects on students.

By Ron Gower

rgower@tnonline.com