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August 16, 1999

An MHSAA Editorial

You're A Winner...Not!

While reading the newspaper one day, the headline and the photo on one story called attention to the work the Attorney General's office was doing to deal with contest entries being sent in the mail to millions of people in our state.

The lure of "You're A Winner!" across the top of the letter or on the envelope was proving to be too much for too many people as they were invited to participate in the contest, often at their own expense, and against great odds, which were published in the fine print if they were published at all.

In essence, the Attorney General's office was seeking in some ways to protect people from themselves, or at least to be sure that it was made obvious what they were getting into when they sent the entry back to the organizers of the contest.

Perhaps we need the Attorney General to step in and deal with a similar situation in high school sports.

With means of mass communication improving all the time, and with the desire of non-educational groups to make a buck capitalizing on the dreams of students and their parents associated with the, “No. 1 Syndrome,” more and more high school students are being notified that they have become "eligible" for or "invited" to participate in what it says is a national high school championship meet of some sort.

The "You're A Winner!" jargon from the sweepstakes reads "You Have Qualified!" in this instance. The participant enters the so-called national high school championship they have "qualified" for by writing out a check – not to subscribe to a magazine or buy the product – but to enter. And the check is often a hefty one at that.

Like the contest, there may be more expenses. You have to get yourself there, house and feed yourself and your family and have them pay an exorbitant price so they can see you perform.

But wait! There's more! Not all of the "qualifiers" are showing up. And the college coaches who were promised to flock to the event to see you compete in this national championship aren't showing up either.

Kind of sounds like the "You're A Winner!" thing the Attorney General is fighting. In the end, the TV cameras may show up at your door, but you've got better chances of being hit by lightning. In this case, the lure of the so-called "national" championship blinds you into playing.

I once heard a speaker quip, "And I'm in the Who's Who of Public Speakers…as long as I continue to send them my money." We're so quickly taken in and played with like a fish on the hook.

We haven't gotten to the last part yet – in fact the best part. Playing for the "National High School Championship" may cost you your high school eligibility. Rules in Michigan and many other state prohibit student-athletes from participating in these types of meets before their high school days are over.

So what's to do about this? First of all, read the fine print. There's not any organization with any responsibility or authority for high school sports that's sponsoring a bona fide national high school championship in any sport. It's against the rules of state and national organizations that do have such responsibility and authority. And if there ever is a national high school championship, you won't have to pay to enter.

If the "You're A Winner!" letter says you've been selected to compete based on your high school participation, check with your athletic director or school principal and read the rule book. If still in doubt, have a school administrator contact the MHSAA office on your behalf. Based on your high school achievements alone, playing in such meets makes you a loser - of your eligibility for school sports.

Outside of the school sports spectrum, there are many opportunities to participate in all kinds of competitions from local to national that will not affect a student's eligibility. Great care, though, needs to be exercised in evaluating everything from three-on-three basketball tournaments, to four-on-four soccer and football, to so-called all-star competitions. Read the fine print. Ask questions of the right people.

Because if it says "You're A Winner!" and you take the bait, chances are your problems are just beginning.

--John Johnson,
Communications Director