10

A Shift

The disease of youth sports generally – observed in premature sports specialization and the commercialization of kids’ games by both local entrepreneurs and corporate giants – is infecting school-based sports, especially basketball.

We see it in transfers by starters and dropouts among reserves.

We see it in short benches for JV and varsity games and empty gyms.

There is no shame in identifying our weak spots; it’s the only way to start fixing them.

And heavens! NCAA men’s basketball is being investigated by the FBI. Players are being ruled ineligible. Coaches are being fired. Others are being arrested.

School-based basketball is beautiful by comparison! But we can and must be better. And that can only begin to happen by facing up to our shortcomings.

The clock is ticking on the life of school-based basketball, and only a change in emphasis – a cultural shift – may save what arguably has been the most historically important sport in our schools. A shift . . .

  • Away from all-star games for a few graduating seniors and toward junior high/middle school programs open to all kids.
  • Away from national events and toward city, county and conference rivalries.
  • Away from “elite” travel teams and toward local K-6 development programs operated by schools.
  • Away from creeping commercialism and blatant professionalism and toward a recommitment to amateurism.
  • Away from gamesmanship and toward sportsmanship as a precursor to citizenship.
  • Away from running up the score – a lot – and toward playing every kid – a lot.

The leaders and lovers of school-based basketball must resist the slippery slope and advocate for the cultural shift. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon or rocket scientist to save school-based basketball; but it does take courage and persistence.

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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.