Was There Too Much World Cup Buzz at Altamont?

David Borasino

David Borasino

Tuesday, February 28, 2023
Was There Too Much World Cup Buzz at Altamont?

Photo by Fauzan Saari, courtesy of Unsplash

FIFA announced in 2015 that the most recent soccer World Cup would be held in Qatar during the winter because of that nation's typically extreme summer heat. This marked the first time in its 93-year history that the World Cup was held in winter. This also created a new dilemma for U.S. schools. Statistically, the pastime has gotten more popular in the United States, as soccer is now the fourth most popular sport. And the World Cup has certainly increased Americans' interest in soccer.  

These factors created a soccer frenzy, especially after the U.S. team won a number of games. This meant that schools had to handle the rise in soccer fanaticism. That was clear at The Altamont School. Teachers attempted to juggle their responsibilities to teach versus students' desires to watch the game: Should we celebrate the World Cup and watch it during the school day as a community? Or should we focus on the ‘normal’ job of a school?  

The first teacher I interviewed was a former player who had developed a love for the sport long before this past World Cup, Laura Ottaviani-Chacon. She said, bluntly, “[Soccer] is the best sport.” 

She thought that students should be allowed to watch the world cup and that teachers needed to plan it into their schedule. She said she believes that, since it comes around only every four years, the experience can be valuable to students. In Ottaviani-Chacon's case, the timing seemed to work out perfectly: She was able to watch the U.S. play multiple times without impacting her teaching schedule. When asked if there was any slip in productivity, she replied, “I did not notice any at all ... It brought a lot of spirit, comradery, and excitement.” She emphasizes the fact that this was the case in her class, and she had prepared to adapt to the World Cup.  

Dr. Alex Melonas was less enthusiastic about the World Cup, worried it would negatively impact learning. He seemed frustrated with how the World Cup affected the classroom. 

"It was really disruptive,” he said, adding that if there had been a school-wide policy, it would have been fine, but, at least among students, “it was just 'known' that when the US was playing ... that we all just watched it ... I didn’t have a choice, it felt like.” He felt that either he had to let the students watch or they would not pay attention in class. He said that since some teachers let students watch, the students that were in class begged to watch it.

“That’s the biggest frustration as a teacher," he said. "You have expectations about what you are going to do, but then you have no option.” He says he felt like he lost almost an entire week of work.  

Melonas did eventually allow students to watch the World Cup in the rotunda, but only due to a perceived lack of options. But in retrospect, he said it did not actually make him that upset: overall, he believes the school should move with the students, so if there were that many students invested in the World Cup, the school should address it.

The experience of both teachers shows that planning was or would have been key for handling the World Cup. Now that the World Cup has passed, there is nothing school leaders can do about it. But they can prepare for similar events in the future. 

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