The Atlantic

What's Lost When Only Rich Kids Play Sports

The income disparity in youth athletics has effects on health and success that stretch far into adulthood.
Source: Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters

As a child in the 1970s, Kathleen Castles lived across the street from her elementary school, and most mornings she got up at dawn to horse around the playground. She loved sports. The gym teacher, Ken Kuebler, would allow Castles to make use of the gym before classes started while he readied for the day.  He knew that Castles’s family was poor.

Kuebler, who also coached track and cross country at the local high school, eventually started a before-school running group for the elementary-schoolers. Dubbed the Eight-Minute Club, anyone who could run the mile in eight minutes earned a t-shirt. Castles, then a third-grader, was the first to win one. During fourth, fifth and sixth grade, she beat all the other elementary-school girls in the town’s annual mile race and went on to compete at the regional cross-country meet in Connecticut, every year qualifying for the Junior Olympic Nationals. At 10, she ran the mile in five minutes and 35 seconds.

“Mr. Kuebler was the first person to notice me, to see something in me,” Castles said. He gave her running

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