Mary Kate Anselmini of Ward Melville, right, winner of the...

Mary Kate Anselmini of Ward Melville, right, winner of the girls 3000 meters, gets out to a good start during the Suffolk High School Indoor Track Championships Saturday in Brentwood. (Feb. 12, 2011) Credit: John Dunn

Sam Kilb is a junior at Stony Brook University.

The clock should be winding down on high school athletics.

Recently, Elwood schools Superintendent Peter Scordo presented a worst-case contingency budget to show how sports programs could be dropped to preserve academics.

Often, superintendents threaten this measure to sway taxpayers toward supporting higher school spending, because many in the community have an emotional attachment to high school sports. But cutting athletics programs is an approach that schools affected by budget troubles should seriously consider.

It simply makes no sense for a school district with the primary objective of educating children to allow a single academic program to lose a single dollar while it continues to fund athletics.

I was a three-season athlete in high school, and earned a varsity letter in four sports. I loved my teammates and coaches, had some of the best experiences, and learned some important life lessons.

At the same time, I played club sports outside of school through local programs. I loved my teammates and coaches, had some of the best experiences and learned some important life lessons.

What would student-athletes do after school with no school-sponsored athletics programs? They could play sports, either with friends or with a community club program. Or, maybe they could do their homework. My parents, who both worked full-time jobs, made sure I did it between practices.

Sports don't keep all kids out of trouble; plenty -- perhaps even the majority -- of my varsity-athlete classmates in high school had more than enough time to find it in the form of drugs and alcohol, even the ones dedicated enough to go on and play in college.

Perhaps by committing themselves to the club teams they play for, students would spend more time training, as club teams are generally at a higher level than most high school teams.

Many athletes who get scholarships to play sports in college already play for club teams. Except for in football, most of the experience college coaches want is achieved at the club level.

Clubs can be costly, but some offer financial help for talented players who can't afford it. There are also less expensive, less intense leagues for athletes who don't intend to take their game to the next level.

At school, a nice alternative to keep kids active would be low-cost, after-school intramural sports. Students, including many not served by existing athletics programs, would have something to do after school in a safe environment, and the equipment is already available.

The real focus of schools is learning, and that's where America is falling behind. Academics must be the first priority of our school districts. If eliminating athletics will allow for quality educational programs, smaller class sizes and increased opportunities -- and not just inflated administrator salaries -- then it makes sense for students to take their game elsewhere.