Healthy High
Are you a high school athlete? Find out why you and
your teammates rule the school.
by Kelly Kennedy
2000-10-25  At a recent volleyball game at Lincoln High School, a public school in downtown
Portland, Ore., Shayna Snyder and a dachshund named Hercules cheered on their team.
   The roughly 100 girls gathered in the dank, hot gym had more to celebrate than a win that night:
More high school girls are playing sports, and they're picking up some other perks as well.
   Teens who participate in sports don't tend to binge, purge or starve themselves. They don't
smoke as much, they don't have as much sex, and they don't engage in violent behavior, according
to a recent study by the University of South Carolina's School of Public Health.
   "It all makes sense," Snyder, 17, yelled over sneaker squeaks and Hercules' enthusiastic
barking. "You don't want to get pregnant if you're going to play a sport-that kind of messes it up."
   High school athletes do, however, toss down just as much beer as their non-athletic classmates.
Snyder, who plans to swim this year, said she understands that, too.
   "Why do they drink?" she said. "'Cuz they're teenagers? I do hear kids saying, 'I'm not going to
drink during my season.'"
A pleasant surprise
   The researchers were mostly pleased with the results.
   "Something wonderful is happening," said Marsha Dowda, a study statistician. "More than half
of our female respondents said they are playing sports. It's still not enough-it would be nice to get
it up to the 70 percent mark [where] the males are."
   Dowda said the study found that of the 14,221 male and female high school students
interviewed, 53 percent of the girls play on team sports. About half those girls play more than one
sport.
   "It was remarkable," she said. "I was truly surprised there wasn't a lack of girls. That ties into a
lot of issues: If they can learn through sports a proper diet, that could help our obesity problem. I
was also surprised that they were significantly less sexually active, and there was less marijuana
use and smoking."
Food Is Fuel
   Female athletes have fewer eating disorders than non-athletes, but they are not immune from
pressures to be thin and can still obsess over weight.  The study also found that students who
were involved in sports were less likely to carry a gun or weapon or think about suicide.
The sport chick's POV
   The girls at Lincoln were not surprised by any of it.
   "Being on a team is something to live up to," said Carla Maunder, who is on the dance team
there. "I guess you have something going for you."
   Celia Hungerford, 16, was at the volleyball game, supporting her teammates.
   "You don't want to risk not being on the team," she said. "You have to keep a high GPA, you
have to take care of your body, you can't use drugs."
   Girls playing basketball at tiny Sandy High, just outside of Portland, agreed with the findings,
too.
   "There is not much time for a boyfriend or sex," said Lorena Perez, 15. "You do still get the
peer pressure for drinking, though."
   Teammate Melissa Rich, 14, backed her up: "A lot of people my age drink," she said. "I don't
think they see it as unhealthy, like smoking or using drugs."
   But for the most part, the teen athletes see themselves as having healthy body images and plenty
of self-esteem.
   "You have to take care of yourself," said Mariah Tylka, 14. "If I eat too much or too little, I
don't feel good enough to play. If I smoke, I could get kicked off the team. I go to more
assemblies and care about others because I know it takes hard work to do sports. It's about
respect."
   Several similar studies have shown the same results, said Sommer Thorne, an education
specialist for the Women's Sports Foundation.
   "I think some of it is because sports empower girls," she said. "They have better
self-confidence, and they work well with others. And, if kids are kept busy, it keeps them out of
trouble."
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