‘Sports in American Culture’ Broadens Student Perspectives | News, Sports, Jobs


Parkersburg High School teacher Sam Vincent, left, works with one of his students, Madison Marks, during his “Sports in American Culture” class. The choice, which involves virtual interviews with popular sports personalities, applies to college credits. (Photo by Kerry Patrick)

PARKERSBURG — The attraction of taking the course “Sport in American Culture” as a college elective was an easy choice for Parkersburg High School senior Madison Marks.

Marks completed the course as a high school elective when it was first offered to PHS students the previous year. The selection of sports personalities she met through virtual interviews not only broadened her knowledge on various sports topics, but she also learned about the backgrounds of popular sports personalities.

“I took the course when it was first offered last year – I just wanted to do it because I play sports,” said Mark. “I’m a college softball player and I do cross-fit. I wanted to take the course because I am athletic and didn’t know much about other sports than my own. I wanted to know more so I could watch football games and know what was going on.

“(Sam Vincent, PHS teacher) really goes above and beyond for us. We talked to people like (US Olympic diver) Greg Louganis and (Kansas City Chiefs football coach) Andy Reid. We get to talk to these people, which is really cool.

With the support of PHS director Kenny DeMoss, Vincent connected with West Virginia University and took a training course at the university last summer. Through this experience, Vincent founded a program designed to give his students college credit, while keeping the core course in place for those who enroll in an elective course for high school credit.

During the fall semester, the college choice uses a textbook titled, “Sociology of North American Sport.” In the spring, students will discover the history of the Olympics. Vincent lines up virtual interviews with people who apply to each particular sport the students study.

“Of course you have ambitious goals, but I was touched by the people who agreed to speak and by the growth of the program”, Vincent said. “This year, I have a lot more students interested in sports. And the interview we have (November 3 with Joe Montana), the kids were like “the holy cow!”

“When we had success with this elective as a high school course, I contacted WVU because I knew they had sports management classes and the teacher there said they were happy to have this partnership. Students can obtain up to six hours of college credit at a discounted rate.

PHS student-athlete Evan Craven, a senior, plays on the Big Red baseball team. He remembers listening to Bob Costas speak to the class. Costas, an Emmy-winning sports broadcaster, didn’t dwell on his accolades and accomplishments. Instead, he spent the majority of the session detailing his background.

“Bob Costas went through his childhood much more than many others, and what he did to get to Syracuse became the big name he is,” Craven said. “He said ‘work hard and I hope you get there.’ He talked more about what we can do than what he does.

Talks with PHS students are scheduled for one hour. A majority lasts 40 to 45 minutes. A day spent with (former NFL player and TV host) Mike Golic lasted an hour and a half. Vincent sends countless correspondence. He estimates his success rate to be around 5%, which is better than none at all.

In class, Vincent goes beyond the simple sport itself. Its content standards also cover topics such as civil rights and Title IX.

“I send all kinds of letters, e-mails, whatever,” Vincent said. “Most of these people who have spoken – there are no classes like this or not many who have reached out to them. When we did Andy Reid last year he said he was happy to do it because he said he had no connection to West Virginia so it’s not gonna be like a huge history in Kansas City.

“The people we interviewed were super receptive. And all these people did it for free. People might think that’s where my taxpayers’ money is going. All these people we interview, it’s free. They even sent autographed photos back with a message to the kids.

Both Marks and Craven agreed that having Vincent teach the class was high on their list of priorities when signing up for the elective. Although this is their last year at PHS, the two students spread the word that “Sport in American Culture” is an option worth considering.

“I took the course again for college credits because I like Mr. Vincent and I like learning sports that I don’t already know” said Mark. “I liked talking to the people we talked to. I really enjoyed talking to Greg Louganis because he was in a difficult situation. He was my age and he went to the Olympics, then he found out later that he (was HIV positive). He had to deal with all the backlash. I found it impressive that he said all that.

“Then he came out and said he was gay. I was impressed that he had the guts to come out with it all, deal with it and still pull it off.

In most cases, the students set the tone of the interview. Students are required to create two to three questions and Vincent relays the information so that the guest speaker is prepared for the series of questions.

“Mr. Vincent really gets us to know the person we are interviewing before we get into his life,” Craven said. “I knew most of the people we interviewed. Some I had no idea were from the 1980s or 1990s, like former Olympian speed skater Eric Heiden. I had no idea who he was and now he’s a doctor now. It’s incredible.

“Hearing all these people that I don’t know existed, it’s amazing to see what they have done after their careers.”

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