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Carry On

For many years my vocation has been that of executive director of the Michigan High School Athletic Association.  My vocation -- not my occupation, which has the connotation of a pastime that merely consumed my days and years, or a space that only my physical presence has been taking up.

No, this has been my vocation,  in the sense of the root word “vocari,” which means "to be called.”  The MHSAA has not been my job; it’s been my purpose.

Anyone who knows my background would understand.

I grew up at the home of the executive director of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association who was my role model as spouse, father and man.  I was a twenty-something staff member of the National Federation of State High School Associations under the mentoring of Clifford Fagan, one of the deepest thinkers in the history of educational athletics. It was he who encouraged me to write about our work.

Anyone who has worked with me, listened to me or read what I've written would understand.

Everything has pivoted on protecting and promoting the core values of school-sponsored, student-centered athletics: policies,  procedures and programs that put academics before athletics and attempt to develop the whole child.

For example, I see sportsmanship not as some  corny promotion, but as a critical issue of educational athletics.  I view good sportsmanship  as a precursor to good citizenship. This is not the mindset of a man on the job, but of a man with a mission.

Going forward, those who love and lead school sports in Michigan must avoid doing those easy things that increase the scope and stakes of competition. Instead they must address every day those difficult policies, procedures and programs  that enhance the physical, mental and emotional values of interscholastic athletics to students and the value of educational athletics to schools and society.

It's not more competition that is needed in high school sports, but more character. Not more sport specialization that's needed  in junior high/middle school sports, but more sport sampling. Less attention to celebrating hype in  sports events for youth, but more attention to cultivating life long-habits and good health for adults.

In leaving the MHSAA after 32 years this summer, I will have some regrets . . . sad to be leaving the company of great staff and some extraordinary colleagues in our member schools . . . sorry that even though we worked so hard and accomplished so much, there is still so much to do to keep school sports safe, sane and sportsmanlike. 

There’s lots to do.  Carry on.

Posted in: Perspective

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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.