SYMBOLS AND SEASONS
I just read that the vast majority of
surveyed citizens of the state of Mississippi want to keep the
symbol of the Confederacy as a part of their state flag; and controversy
swirls as traditionalists debate the newer sense of what is politically
Similar votes have occurred in other states, and controversies have been unfurled between those who see the symbol of the Confederacy as a part of their state's valued heritage and those who see that symbol as inappropriate today, either out of principle or because of the negative economic impact that occurs when national enterprises refuse to do business with a state that flies the flag that once flew over the Confederacy.
These controversies over the Confederate flag always make me think of our controversy in Michigan over sports seasons and girls interscholastic athletics. They force me to ask and answer, again and again, these kinds of questions:
How do people elsewhere look at
Michigan schools in their battle to preserve separate sports seasons
for girls and boys in basketball, golf, soccer, swimming and diving
How will people in later years look at Michigan schools in their battle to preserve separate sports season schedules?
In the 2004-05 school year, the only state whose majority of high schools will play girls volleyball in the winter may be Michigan, although several states do not have girls volleyball as a high school sport.
In the 2004-05 school year, the only state whose majority of high schools will play girls basketball in the fall may be Michigan (Hawaii schools play girls basketball in the spring; all other states will be primarily in the winter).
The seasons are scheduled as they are in Michigan schools because it is what schools chose to do as the sports were emerging for high school girls 25 to 35 years ago.
No fewer than six times over those years, the MHSAA has surveyed schools to determine if this schedule is what schools want. It is, overwhelmingly.
In 1999, at the MHSAA's request, Western Michigan University surveyed female high school athletes to determine if this schedule is what they want. It is, overwhelmingly.
Twice in the last decade, high school basketball coaches have been surveyed by the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan to determine if this schedule is what they want. It is, overwhelmingly.
From time to time over the past 30 years, challenges to the sports season schedule have come from outside the athletes, coaches and administrators of Michigan schools. In 2001, the challenges have included a state legislator's effort to force schools to conduct boys and girls seasons in the same sports at the same time of year, as well as the continuation of a legal action filed in June of 1998 to have a court force schools to do what they do not want to do.
How do other states view this, and how will history portray Michigan schools' attitudes and actions regarding girls sports seasons?
Only time will tell, of course; but here is a BIG difference between the controversy over flags and the controversy over female sports seasons: the flag is merely a symbol; female sports seasons are practical. One waves in the breeze and creates a world of memories and a storm of controversy. The other makes a daily difference.
Michigan schools believe that difference is increased opportunities for girls and boys in interscholastic athletics: larger squads, more levels of teams and less cutting because schools' facilities and faculty are utilized better than when sports seasons coincide for boys and girls. Schools have testimony and statistics to support their claims.
It is the MHSAA staff's job to serve these schools. It is to listen to them and to do what the member schools think works best.
But because the stakes are so high on this issue of sports seasons, I've thought a lot about the reputation now and legacy of this state's schools. I don't want schools to look bad now or in the future by fighting some quixotic crusade against the tide of change.
So in my concern, I have talked to students. I have asked these student-athletes, especially the females, what they think. And time after time, I'm told no seasons should be changed. What Michigan schools do is best for students because it provides the most opportunity for students. That's what the students say.
I've told these student-athletes that it is my job to do what the schools want, but if I ever learn that school sports seasons decrease rather than increase student participation, I would do everything within my authority to change the minds of coaches and administrators about their season choices.
In the absence of evidence that school sports seasons do anything but help boys and girls in Michigan schools, I can do nothing but serve the overwhelming interests of athletes, coaches and administrators, trusting that other states and history will be kind to our schools' efforts.
--MHSAA Executive Director Jack Roberts