26

Leading with Heart

“I hope you have thick skin.”

Those were my mother’s first words when I informed her in 1986 that I would become the executive director of the Michigan High School Athletic Association. Mother spoke from experience, being married to the executive director of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association from 1957 through 1985. She witnessed how consistent and cruel criticism can be toward those administering a competitive enterprise which almost daily declares winners and losers by virtue of time, distance or score.

The past 32 years have shaded my hair and softened my waist; and while the years have also toughened my hide, they have not hardened my heart. From the very first days until now, I’ve led with my heart and exposed my passion and convictions.

I do not apologize that I’ve placed greater importance on character building than skills development. On team over individual. On the needs of the 99 percent of participants over desires of the one percent of elite athletes. On subvarsity programs. On junior high/middle school students.

On practice, more than competition. On the regular season, more than postseason tournaments. On multi-sport participation. On leadership training. On sportsmanship. On coaches education, especially with respect to health and safety.

There will always be calls for more . . . longer seasons, additional games, more distant travel, larger trophies. More necessary are the voices that recall the mission of competitive sports within schools, recite the core values of educational athletics, and work to reclaim the proper place of sports in schools and of school sports in society.

I believe that under-regulated competition leads to excesses, but properly conducted and controlled competitive sports is good for students, schools and society; and I believe a life devoted to coaching or administering such a program is a life well lived.

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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.