No. 1 Worries

Fueled by the “No. 1” syndrome, people often worry about and value the wrong things when it comes to interscholastic athletics.

For example, they worry about the eligibility of athletes more than the education of students.  They worry about athletic scholarships to college more than genuine scholarship in high school.  Faced with financial shortfalls, they use middle school athletics as the whipping boy because the No. 1 syndrome causes people to value varsity programs more than junior varsity, and high school programs more than middle school.

It is possible in the subvarsity programs of our high schools (far more than in varsity programs where crowds and media bring pressure to win) and it should be and usually is pervasive in our middle school programs, that participation is more important than specialization, trying more important than winning, teamwork more important than individual honors, and teaching more important than titles and trophies.

At the middle school level, coaches have an opportunity to look down the bench for substitutes without first looking up at the scoreboard.  The scorebook should be kept to see how many students played in the game, not how many points any one player scored.

Here is where education prevails over entertainment in interscholastic athletics.  Here is where philosophy of athletics is more in tune with the mission of the school.  Here is where the taxpayer’s dollar is spent best.

To the degree we introduce large tournaments and trophies into middle level programs, we damage the purity of educational athletics and the purpose of middle school programs.  To the degree we cut middle level programs in the face of budget crises, we succumb to the No. 1 syndrome.

We must expose the No. 1 syndrome for the sickness it is:  a cancerous growth that must be cut out of educational athletics before it leads to cutting out what is arguably the most educational parts of interscholastic athletics:  middle school programs.


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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.