The 2017-18 school year holds great potential for the Michigan High School Athletic Association and for school sports in Michigan. Only time will tell us if the potential is greater for good than for bad.

There is positive momentum in promoting participant health and safety as the last of three advances in the health and safety preparation of coaches is implemented, as high schools’ mandatory concussion reporting and MHSAA-purchased concussion care “gap” insurance for 6th- through 12th-graders enter year three, and as higher limits of accident medical insurance is purchased by the MHSAA for all member junior high/middle schools and high schools, effective this month.

There is positive momentum in serving and supporting junior high/middle school programs where membership was up five percent last year over the year before. The MHSAA had an enjoyable, brand-broadening experience as “presenting sponsor” at a half-dozen junior high/middle school league track & field meets this past spring; and the MHSAA will be doing so during fall, winter and spring junior high/middle school tournaments during the 2017-18 school year.

The MHSAA’s Task Force on Multi-Sport Participation continues to develop strategies that focus on junior high/middle school students and their parents and to address the greatest health threat in youth sports – overuse injuries as the result of year-round sports specialization; and the Task Force is developing tools that help define and defend educational athletics.

Beneath these three over-arching themes, the MHSAA is addressing some pressing new problems – like what to do about venues that are no longer available to us for MHSAA tournaments in girls and boys basketball and individual wrestling – as well as some chronic concerns – like recruiting and retaining contest officials and athletic-related transfers. The loss of officials and the rise of athletic-related transfers are problems of nearly epidemic proportions.

The amount of resources the MHSAA will be able to bring to all these topics will be affected by the number of controversies that arise during the normal course of essential business in administering programs, policies and penalties. Such controversies can knock us off message, and rob us of resources that could allow us to be doing more of the positive things we know need to be done.

There is also the potential that we get distracted by the National Federation of State High School Associations, some of whose member state association CEOs want to talk more about NFHS sponsorship of national tournaments, even after decades of opposition to such events from both state and national educational associations, as well as clear and convincing evidence that no organization – from Little League to the NCAA – has been able to conduct national tournaments without adding to their existing problems and creating new pressures and new problems.

Excesses and abuses in school sports have their own momentum. We should not create more by NFHS sponsorship of the very events it was created to end.


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About the Author

Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts has been at the helm of the MHSAA as its Executive Director since 1986, implementing programs and overseeing tournament administration and regulations for the Association which boasts 1,500 member schools, 10,000 registered officials and 13,000 head coaches.

During the last 45 years, Roberts has spoken to educator and athletic groups, business leaders and civic groups in almost every state and five Canadian provinces. He is one of the nation's most articulate advocates for educational athletics.

Roberts has served on the board of directors of the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), is in his second term on the board of the National Federation of State High School Associations, and is the first chairman of the NFHS Network board of directors. He has been board president for the Refugee Development Center for nine years, and is a past-chair of the board of directors of the Michigan Society of Association Executives. He is chair of the board of trustees for the Capital Region Community Foundation for 2018.

He is a 1970 graduate of Dartmouth College, where he played defensive safety for the Ivy League's winningest football team during that span, and he sang in Dartmouth's close harmony vocal group.

His wife, Peggy, has retired from a 30-year career in social services, and is serving as president of the board of the Fenner Nature Conservancy in Lansing.