Our Own Worst Enemies

The early history of school sports was in four phases. It began as activities that students alone would organize. Then schools saw the need to supervise. Then schools created statewide high school athletic associations to standardize. Then a national federation of those state associations brought an end to corporate and college efforts to nationalize school sports. All of this between the US Civil War and World War II.

The entire history of school sports has had one overriding narrative. Inherent in the struggles that defined each phase of the early history, and every decade since, has been the struggle between those who believe competitive athletics is an asset for schools intent on educating students in body, mind and spirit, versus those who believe interscholastic athletic programs are a distraction at best and, at worst, damaging to the character development of students. There is much evidence to support both sides of this long debate.

Sometimes, the advocates for school-sponsored sports have been, and are, their own worst enemies. What the advocates of school sports must realize is that the more they do to enlarge the scope of school sports . . . more games, longer seasons, further travel, escalating hype . . . the more they prove that the opponents of school sports have been correct.  

As they encourage the chasm between athletics and academics and between school sports' haves and have-nots to widen; as sports teams are outfitted in uniforms that are fancier and funded for travel that is further, while classroom resources are fewer; as sportsmanship declines and athletic transfers increase; the so-called “progressive” thinkers help make the case that competitive athletics is bad for students, schools and society.

Opposition to escalation in school sports is not old fashioned; it's the only way to assure the future of sports in schools . . . the only way to save school sports from itself.


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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.