15 Unusual High School Sports

Nothing brings a local community together quite like a big game ... of broomball. Check out these 15 actual high school sports that seemed to have come from out of left field.

1. Orienteering 

Umea Orienteringsklubb, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Races normally require athletes to stay on a strict path; orienteering forces competitors to navigate their way through wooded, uneven terrain using a map to highlight designated “control points,” but leaving the route largely up to them. A number of schools participate in the U.S. Interscholastic Orienteering Championships each year.

2. Bass Fishing

Kentucky is among the states that have recognized bass fishing as a sport. When it comes to competing, two participants from opposing schools board the same boat driven by a nonpartisan adult, and the student with the heaviest haul wins. (The fish are returned to the water.) Advocates for the sport believe it promotes a healthy knowledge of conservation and the environment.

3. Broomball 

Since 1977, Toledo, Ohio high schools have been host to the Greater Toledo Broomball League, which pits teams against one another in a modified version of hockey: players use a broom-shaped stick to control a small ball on ice, though they wear special shoes instead of skates.

4. Judo

Japanese high school students are expected to be well versed in this martial art, an Olympic sport which incorporates throws and chokes. The training can be excessive: In 2013, The New York Times reported on an alarming number of athletes—more than 100—who were alleged to have died doing scholastic judo in the country since 1983. 

5. Robotics 

The Shelton, Connecticut Gaelhawks are among the teams involved in high school robotics, which pits custom constructions against one another in games designed by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). One program had robots stacking containers on top of one another, then filling recycling bins with refuse.

6. Synchronized Swimming

Nearly 700 high school athletes participated in synchronized swimming in 2013, the majority of them females. Teams ranging from two to eight swimmers attempt to sync their movements for a panel of judges.

7. Fencing 

Roughly 3700 students take up close-quarter combat each year. Matches can involve three different kinds of weapons: the epee, saber, or foil. At least one program dates back 50 years.

8. Air Riflery

Hawaii's Mid-Pacific is just one school providing students with ammunition for air riflery, which involves target shooting with a BB gun. Some programs are postal, meaning schools participate by sending in their scores to an administrator.

9. Badminton

Once the scourge of 1950s family picnics everywhere, badminton experienced a renaissance of sorts at the high school level after its 1992 Olympic debut. The NCAA didn’t hop on board, however, so those players looking for scholarship opportunities may have to head overseas. 

10. Quidditch

Harry Potter’s favorite fictional pastime—played with brooms and a deflated volleyball—has infiltrated American schools, albeit with no tackling, which distinguishes it from the International Quidditch rules. Mostly played within athletic clubs, in April, a Roanoke, Virginia school was the first program to be officially acknowledged by The U.S. Quidditch Association.

11. Flag Football 

Susumu Komatsu, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Women denied the opportunity to suit up for varsity football have been increasingly turning toward the non-tackle version, which is gaining popularity in part because it doesn't require expensive equipment.

12. Rodeo

Nebraska students participating in rodeo events usually stick to barrel racing and team roping, though plenty of other programs allow bull riding—provided athletes wear helmets. Perhaps that’s why the National High School Rodeo Association requires its members to purchase their own health insurance plans, even if they already have existing coverage through their parents.

13. Ultimate Frisbee

Over 9000 students practice team-based Frisbee play, which uses a slightly heavier disc than the one collecting rainwater in your backyard.

14. Handball

New York City holds the highest concentration of teen handball players around, but controversy over playing pick-up games for money can see students barred from official competition. 

15. Video Games

A movement is afoot to bring “eSports” to schools by encouraging game-players to organize competitive teams. More than 750 teams across the country play games like League of Legends; for some members, the hope is to obtain a scholarship to one of the colleges offering gaming as a varsity sport.

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Paradise Found Around, YouTube
A Very Special History of The More You Know
Paradise Found Around, YouTube
Paradise Found Around, YouTube

For the past 29 years, NBC has devoted a portion of airtime that could otherwise be sold for substantial advertising dollars to provide brief reminders about basic human decency, teen issues, and social controversies. Efficiently packaged in 30-second increments and featuring recognizable faces, The More You Know campaign has become synonymous with lessons in ethics. Wrap up a serious conversation with your kid about drug use and they’re likely to respond by humming the campaign’s theme song. (“Da-da-da-dahhh.”)

But how did the network find itself the messenger for these widely celebrated (and widely parodied) spots? And did they really have any impact?

 
 

The idea of a public service announcement—a philanthropic use of airtime on television or radio to serve a greater good—started in the United States back in the 1940s, when stations allocated some of their commercial or program time to remind people about the war efforts under the guidance of the newly-formed War Advertising Council. The idea had been imported from the UK, which had long featured film reels on public safety tips, like how to cross a road. PSAs relied on truncated, catchy messages (“Loose lips sink ships”) to impart ideas with the limited time they had available.

After the Allied victory, the War Advertising Council became the Ad Council, and the scope of their mission changed from world-altering events to comparatively mundane topics. Aligned with mandates from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), public service announcements attempted to balance special interests with objective information. In the late 1960s, for example, the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine took aim at tobacco advertising, with one PSA on the dangers of the habit airing for every three cigarette spots. The number of smokers in the U.S. actually declined before the FCC banned such advertising from airwaves altogether in 1971.

By the 1980s, the major networks (ABC, NBC, CBS) narrowed their PSA efforts by giving them a unique identity. ABC’s Schoolhouse Rock was among the most popular, using catchy songs to illustrate points about government or science. NBC aired One to Grow On, a series of cautionary messages about everything from chewing tobacco to finishing your homework, with Mr. T. and Michael J. Fox sharing their scripted wisdom.

 
 

In the late 1980s, Rosalyn Weinman, NBC's vice president of broadcast standards and practices, was approached by several nonprofit educational groups to see if the network might want to get involved in raising awareness for the teacher shortage affecting the country. Weinman reached out to former NBC creative director-turned-ad executive Steve Lance, gave him a slogan (“The More You Know”), and asked him to produce five test spots centered around the importance of teachers and education. While NBC wasn't crazy about the campaign, Weinman had support from her own team and from some marketable names working for the network.

“She said she had a few stars of NBC series willing to do PSAs. What I absolutely didn’t want to do was a talking-head campaign," Lance tells Mental Floss of not wanting to shoot videos where actors would stand or sit on a spare set and deliver their message. "Talking heads were absolute death.”

Instead, Lance wrote a series of spots focusing on bolstering the public perception of teachers by acknowledging famous educators throughout history like Aristotle and Albert Einstein and stretching Weinman’s slogan to “The more you know, the more you can teach.” Miami Vice co-star Saundra Santiago appeared in one of the spots, which began airing in 1989; so did news anchors Tom Brokaw and Deborah Norville, as well as L.A. Law co-stars Michael Tucker and Jill Eikenberry.

To help give the campaign a visual identity, Lance was paired with Steve Bernstein, a graphic designer who came up with the shooting star illustration that signaled the end of the segment. Bernstein tells Mental Floss he wondered why NBC was reaching out to freelancers rather than in-house employees. "Nobody else [at NBC] would do it," he says. "They were too busy, so Rosalyn had to go outside the network." Bernstein came up with a star that fit neatly under the "W" in the slogan.

Originally, the logo was filmed so it looked like it was in motion, not animated. “We didn’t have the budget for that,” Lance says. The familiar melody was composed by two-time Emmy winner Michael Karp, who also created the theme for Dateline NBC.

The spots garnered praise: Lance wrote a total of 17 that first year, all of them centered around the importance of educators—but Lance left after finishing that first batch when Weinman decided to go in a different direction: NBC was apparently concerned viewers wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between set-decorated spots and actual commercials, so Weinman reverted to the “talking head” premise.

 
 

Despite Lance's departure and the change of format, the series continued just as successfully as before. Its minimalist approach was attractive to actors who enjoyed delivering their lines in a loose and informal setting, and by 1996, director David Cornell herded in actors (including Courteney Cox, Jonathan Silverman, and Eriq La Salle) over a single weekend to tape spots for the entire year, often asking them to pare down their delivery so that it would fit into a 25-second block of time. (The last five seconds were reserved for the star graphic and Karp’s melody.)

The Ad Council, which had seen its role minimized over the years, would later take issue with the proprietary campaigns launched by networks, arguing that they were little more than stealth ads for their programs. To their point, NBC did appear to use at least half the casts of ER and Seinfeld. But the spots could sometimes net tangible results: In 1995, after a series of The More You Know spots on domestic violence, calls to the Domestic Violence Hotline went from 228 calls daily to quadruple that amount. The network earned a Public and Community Service Emmy for its efforts, and the campaign—which still airs on NBC—grew to include spots by the cast of Friends and a comedic take courtesy of The Office, as well as appearances by sitting presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. You can watch some of the more well-known (and rather dated) spots below.

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Jeremy Freeman, TruTV
A New Game Show Helps Contestants Pay Off Their Student Loans
Jeremy Freeman, TruTV
Jeremy Freeman, TruTV

Most game shows offer flashy prizes—a trip to Maui, a million dollars, or a brand new car—but TruTV’s latest venture is giving away something much more practical: the opportunity to get out of student loan debt. Set to premiere July 10 on TruTV, Paid Off is designed to help contestants with college degrees win hard cash to put towards their loan payments, MarketWatch reports.

The show gives college graduates with student loan debt "the chance to test the depth of their degrees in a fun, fast-paced trivia game show,” according to TruTV’s description. In each episode, three contestants compete in rounds of trivia, with one contestant eliminated each round.

One Family Feud-style segment asks contestants to guess the most popular answer to college-related poll questions like “What’s the best job you can have while in college?” (Answer: Server.) Other segments test contestants' general trivia knowledge. In one, for example, a contestant is given 20 seconds to guess whether certain characters are from Goodfellas or the children’s show Thomas & Friends. Some segments also give them the chance to answer questions related to their college major.

Game show host Michael Torpey behind a podium
TruTV

Based on the number of questions they answer correctly, the last contestant standing can win enough money to pay off the entirety of their student debt. (However, like most game shows, all prizes are taxable, so they won't take home the full amount they win.)

Paid Off was created by actor Michael Torpey, who is best known for his portrayal of the sadistic corrections officer Thomas Humphrey in the Netflix series Orange is the New Black. Torpey, who also hosts the show, says the cause is personal to him.

“My wife and I struggled with student debt and could only pay it off because—true story—I booked an underpants commercial,” Torpey says in the show’s pilot episode. “But what about the other 45 million Americans with student loans? Sadly, there just aren’t that many underpants commercials. That is why I made this game show.”

The show is likely to draw some criticism for its seemingly flippant handling of a serious issue that affects roughly one in four Americans. But according to Torpey, that’s all part of the plan. The host told MarketWatch that the show is designed “to be so stupid that the people in power look at it and say, ‘That guy is making us look like a bunch of dum dums, we’ve got to do something about this.’”

Paid Off will premiere on Tuesday, July 10 at 10 p.m. Eastern time (9 p.m. Central time).

[h/t MarketWatch]

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