There are always disparities between public and private high school sports leagues, and it can sometimes take a special civic bond to bring the two together. For years, Detroit has had just that with Operation Friendship, a program that pitted public and private school teams that would otherwise bypass each other altogether in friendly competition.
Sadly, as highlighted by the Detroit News, that bridge may not be around much longer. The News' Tom Markowski recently reported that the 2011 track and field meet between the public and private schools was canceled, following on the heels of cancellation of both baseball and softball games in recent years.
That leaves just the annual basketball games between the two different groups of schools, and with additional ongoing cutbacks, there's the distinct possibility that those could disappear soon as well.
While Markowski points to the steep decrease in Detroit Public School League participation across sports as the most glaring concern in the area's athletic scene, even that may not be as troubling as the possible demise of Operation Friendship.
Detroit, like many American cities, is wrought with ever-expanding suburbanization and urban blight. While there may be numerous socio-economic differences between the region's public and private schools, Operation Friendship focused on the similarities that bring them together, commonality that might become even more key in the future as students from each brand of school move into the real world.
And, as Markowski so rightly puts it himself, athletics help teach important social skills -- in this case, forcing groups of different ethnicity and socioeconomic status compete against each other and gain at least a tenuous understanding of those in a different situation -- providing interaction that might not follow otherwise.
"As us over-50 crowd will attest to, the social skills we learned [in athletics], or wished we would have learned better, are so important in the growth of a person."
Where those social skills will be refined without Operation Friendship remains to be seen. In the meantime, all we can do is hope for a miraculous resurrection of a maligned program that once stood for much more than simply adding a game to a team's schedule.