03

The First Time

I remember as clearly as if it were yesterday the first time I had to determine a student was not eligible under rules of the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

At that singular moment, it did not matter that I had been able to advise a dozen previous callers that the students they were inquiring about were eligible under the rules. All I could see in my mind’s eye was this one student who would not be able to participate as a full-fledged member of a team in a sport he enjoyed.

I assumed, as I have in almost every case since, that this was a “good kid,” and one who needed sports more than sports needed him.

But the facts made him ineligible and there were no compelling reasons to look beyond the facts. I knew it would be hard on the student to miss a season, but I also knew this was not in any sense an “undue hardship.” I could see that if the rule was not enforced in this case, I would be undermining its enforcement in other cases, and effectively changing the rule.

And I recognized that I did not have the authority to change a rule which the MHSAA Representative Council and each member school’s board of education had adopted to bring consistency and control to competitive athletics.

Many years have passed, and I’ve had to consider the eligibility of countless students to represent their schools on athletic teams. But I still see each situation as an individual student, balancing his or her individual needs and desires against the need to protect the integrity of the rules and the desire to promote competitive equity within the program.

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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.