EVERY healthy boy likes to be out of doors; and almost every boy is, at some period in his life, an enthusiast on the subject of athletics. Every sane man is ready to allow that a certain amount of out-door life and exercise is desirable, - a tonic to both mind and body, and, on the whole, quite essential to a well-ordered existence. But on the value of competition, the grown men are hardly as ready to agree as are the boys.

There are some, to be sure, who, bidding for popularity with youth, are ever willing to overlook excesses. With "Boys will be boys," or " Wellington's armies were trained on foot-ball fields," they meet all objections raised against athletics, and end by saying impressively, "Mens sana in corpore sano" quite taking it for granted that the mens sana will be there any way. They talk as they do because it is easier and pleasanter to let evils exist than to attempt to reform them. They should not, and I believe do not, enlist any great measure of respect from sensible boys.

Then, there are the chronic grumblers, though luckily their number is small. These men, having forgotten that they were ever boys, or perhaps never having been real boys, fume and rant, and give you to understand that all time spent in the field or on the water is worse than wasted. Feeling themselves that, sooner or later, the world must look dark to every one, they would hurry the natural course of things by forcing boys and girls to wear smoked glasses. Their opposition to athletics is prejudiced, abusive, and often absurd. They are more deserving of pity than of anything else.

But there is still another class of the older men who have the real welfare of the boys close at heart; by them the athletic craze which has possessed the country during the past few years has been observed with no little apprehension. They shake their heads, and rightly, at the all-too-marked difference between the zeal with which the boy of to-day enters into his games, and the listlessness with which he performs the more serious tasks which his school duties bring him. They are not, like the grumblers, hostile to all that is bright and pleasure-producing; but they do realize that, when what should be a means becomes an end, something is going wrong. They find a boy in the class-room working out foot-ball problems on the fly-leaf of his algebra, looking at no part of the daily papers except the sporting-pages, sometimes almost deifying a favorite pitcher or half-back, and they wonder what the end of all this is going to be. They ask themselves if, on the whole, the good that comes from athletics is not more than outweighed by the evil; and they do not always find at once an easy answer to the question.

Now, between those who enter into competition solely for the sake of winning a prize or a victory, and those who love the sport for its own sake, there has always been a distinction. The word "athlete" found its derivation in a name which was applied to those old Greeks who strove for prizes in the games. It was never used to designate those who daily practised in the gymnasium from love of exercise pure and simple. The athlete of that time, however, did not think one quarter as much about the prize itself as about the glory that went with victory, which was very great. We have all read with some wonder of how a Greek town would make a breach in its walls at the home-coming of its victorious representative, and would erect a statue to his honor. But, after all, the esteem which is paid to some young athletes to-day is scarcely less extravagant, and, were we not used to hearing of it, might sound nearly as strange.

What, then, it may be asked, is the justification, if any, for the intense interest in these games, and the spending of so much time and money in their pursuit? Do not the "highly competitive" sports, as compared with the lighter games and those out-of-door pursuits which are purely recreative, receive proportionately too great an amount of attention? Probably they do, and yet some of the benefits they bring with them are so undoubted that they cannot be lightly disregarded.

The average American boy is of rather a high-strung and nervous temperament. He likes action; he wishes to be doing something, and, quite naturally, prefers that something to be anything rather than real work. Very fortunately the greater part of his superfluous energy finds its escape through his devotion to athletic sports. Fortunately, I say, for in thus harmlessly gratifying his appetite for excitement he involuntarily learns many a useful lesson.

First of all, he learns, when he trains for a team, what it is to be subject to discipline. He readily and willingly imposes on himself many hardships, because he sees that they are necessary if he would succeed. He is at an age when there is something which he can do as well as any one, even though that something is only athletics. For once he becomes interested, and works with enthusiasm, - an enthusiasm which, if it is mistaken, must nevertheless gain the respect even of those who see its folly. If this sometimes leads him into error, he should be set right, but not necessarily deprived of his sport.

Perseverance, otherwise known as "sand," is another thing of which a boy soons learns the value. He sees that he must fight hard to the very end, every time, if he is to accomplish anything The "quitter" never amounts to much; and this fact the boy who undertakes the practice of any form of athletics must quickly recognize. It is hard to see how this steady pegging away in the face of all discouragements can fail to have its influence in making a more valuable lot of men.

Aside from the effect on the disposition, there is of course the physical good which comes from regular exercise. It will probably be argued that the exercise could as well, or better, be taken without the strain of severe competition. This is perfectly true; and the only question is, Would it? It is doubtful if, without the incentive of the competition, it would be possible to get anything like the number of young men to take regular exercise that now do so. Once one has formed the habit, however, it is noticeable that he will generally arrange to spend a certain amount of time in the open air long after he has given up regular games and training. To know the blessedness of being in perfect condition is enough to make any one feel that, in training or out, it is worth while to take care of himself.

And yet the evils which are charged to athletics are not all imaginary. Not even the warmest enthusiast can claim that. The point which perhaps is responsible for the greatest number of strictures is the question of interference with studies or work, concerning which one hears a great deal of worthless talk. It is easy, on one hand, to show that the hours occupied in getting to the grounds and back, and going through the daily training, are no more than every boy ought to spend in such a way; and it is equally easy to turn around and point to numerous cases where boys do neglect their studies for athletics. Considering the question calmly, it seems perfectly evident that, as a rule, the boys who take active part in any of the games do devote too much time to them. But this is because a great amount of time is wasted. Boys will linger about, long after they are through practising. They let their attention wander off to the field when other subjects have claims upon it. This is a bad habit, not alone from the standpoint of the instructor, but also from that of the athlete. "Over-training" is well known to result from mental as well as physical causes; and he who lets himself brood constantly over the games he is to play, or the races he is to run, will more than likely soon find himself growing "stale." It is perfectly possible to take part in athletics, and to do the rest of one's school work properly; and when every boy who is a lover of out-of-door sports makes up his mind to demonstrate this statement, the objections will cease.

A Championship Game. {By permission of Pack Bros., New York, Cambridge, and New Haven.)

A Championship Game. (By permission of Pack Bros., New York, Cambridge, and New Haven.)

The trickery and deceit which are countenanced in some games - which, indeed, are sometimes considered a part of them - are all wrong. The games should breed manliness and generosity, not treachery and cunning. Yet we find that, in baseball, boys who in most things are the soul of honesty will cut across from first to third base if the chance offers, will claim to have caught a ball "on the fly," which they know to have touched the ground, and will do many other things which are simply dishonest. There is certainly a danger that such loose standards may in time be applied to the rest of a boy's living. What is wanted is the nobler spirit of "fair play."

Athletics, as they are, doubtless tend in many cases to distort a young boy's estimate of the desirability of physical as compared with intellectual and moral force. This tendency can best be counteracted by a determined effort on the part of the boys who have grown up. They must try to keep in touch with the younger generation, set things right where they go wrong, and, above all, prevent boys who lack stability of character from becoming leaders.

Meanwhile, the tremendous and irrational excitement which has been customary at the time of our more prominent athletic contests seems to have reached its limit, and already there are signs of a healthy reaction. The result of this reaction will doubtless be to force athletics to the field they should occupy - a systematic means of physical development. Incidentally, an increasing interest in sport for sport's sake may be aroused. As the number of spectators at a big game diminishes, so may the number of people exercising increase. Competition is a good thing, but it may be carried too far. Moderation seems to be what is most needed at present.

What we have to look forward to, then, is not the arranging of more "championship" games, which draw from ten thousand to thirty thousand people to see them, but a more careful and more intelligent caring for the bodily welfare on the part of a larger number of people. Most men do not take as good care of themselves as they do of their dogs and horses. Athletics, rightly used, will tend to counteract this carelessness.

It would be well if every boy were to set up for himself a standard of manhood to which he would like to attain. Let him remember that strength and power are the results of generations of temperance and right living, and that in taking the best of care of himself a boy is, at least, doing his share toward the realization of a race of stronger men and more beautiful women.