Inclusion Then and Now

It is accurate to say, and we can be proud that it is true, that there was no more inclusive state high school athletic association in the country at its inception than the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

In Michigan from the official beginning of the MHSAA, ours was one single athletic association. Not separate associations for schools with black students and white students, like some states then. Not separate associations for public schools and private schools, like some states. Not separate associations for big city schools and other schools, like some associations.

This association is unique in the US: From its creation in 1924, by state law, open to urban and rural schools, black and white schools, public and private schools, and both high schools and junior highs. The MHSAA may be the only state interscholastic athletic association that can say all four of those statements were true at its inception.

We have in Michigan a legacy of inclusion that is second to none.

In recent years, we have added to this tradition through the inclusion of 6th-graders who, as a result of a change in the MHSAA’s Constitution in 2015, are now benefitting from MHSAA services, support and rules-making.

But, to be honest, the MHSAA has slipped some in comparison to the expanded inclusiveness of other state interscholastic athletic associations:

  • Compared to Illinois, Ohio and Tennessee, for examples, we do not sponsor and conduct events for junior high/middle school students, even when those students seek to compete under the MHSAA brand and banner.
  • Compared to many states, we are slower to add new sports for high school tournaments, even when students clamor for the opportunity to represent their schools in competition.
  • Compared to many states, we are slower to add programming for students with disabilities.

The MHSAA and its members cannot be all things to all people – that could obscure our mission and it would exceed our resources. But we should consider programming for more people.

The future of our society is in full-service schools developing the whole child in mind, body and spirit; and an essential ingredient of full-service schools is interscholastic athletics and activities. The ideal must be to serve the whole child and, as much as possible, the whole community of children.

That secures the future of schools and school sports as well as communities and their children.


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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.