Great Expectations

My first year of college football wasn't what I expected. And that made all the difference.

I expected to play. In fact, I expected to start. What I did not expect was to never get in a game.

There were 144 candidates for the Dartmouth College freshman football team in 1966. Forty-five had been captains of their high school teams. I wasn't big or fast or carrying a lot of high school accolades. While I never missed a minute of practice, I never played a down in a game.

But because I had expected to play, I believed I should have played, believed the coaches were wrong in not playing me, believed I was a better player than some who did play. I believed it so strongly that I returned for my sophomore year.

And by mid-season – because a lot of the original 144 on the freshman team did not return for the varsity program, and one veteran was switched to another position, and the starter was injured – I became a starter at defensive back.

More than any other reason, this happened because I expected to play college football. I didn't allow the events of my freshman year to define my college football career; my expectations defined my career.

It is this spirit that has guided me in adulthood. Since arriving at the MHSAA, we have had great expectations for educational athletics in this state. For example:

• We have expected that student-athletes would be students first and athletes second.

• We have expected that the environment surrounding interscholastic athletic events would be compatible with the goals and objectives of the sponsoring organizations: educational institutions.

• We have expected that administrators, coaches and officials would seek and could obtain regular in-service training to assure they are aware of the "best practices" for their vocation/avocation.

• We have expected a relatively non-commercial program that focuses on regular season contests at the local level, that emphasizes team values more than individual stars, that provides practical learning experiences in leadership and sportsmanship, hard work and teamwork, discipline and dedication, sacrifice and fair play.

Sometimes we have had to sit on the bench, unable to force people to do what we think would more effectively achieve our high expectations. After all, this is a voluntary association of schools which requires local decision-making and control; so we don't get to call all the plays. But eventually, it seems, if we're patient and come back out the next year and the next, we're provided the opportunity to get in the game and to influence the outcome.

On every level of school sports in Michigan, great expectations can and will prevail if we stay on the team. If we expect the best, if we expect improvement, we are far more likely to get it than if we take ourselves off the team and ultimately out of the game.

One of my sons tried five times to make a travel soccer team. Four times he failed, and through the tears at home, we told him to try again the next year. "Make them cut you again, don't cut yourself," we told him.
Eventually he made that travel team, and then his high school soccer team. He did so because he had extraordinary courage, and great expectations.

— John E. "Jack" Roberts
MHSAA Executive Director