Travel Bug

International trips for U.S. youth sports teams is a big business.  Sometimes the target is school sports teams; and sometimes those schools and communities get foreign travel fever.

While I have nothing against international travel – in fact, it’s a hobby my wife and I enthusiastically share – I caution against international trips for teams or individual athletes.

Sometimes the competition is badly matched.  Sometimes our teams encounter and are routed by another country’s “national team.”  More often, our teams encounter poorly organized events and weak, thrown-together opposing teams and substandard venues.  But that’s not the major concern here.

Several years ago, a Michigan community spent $23,000 to help send 20 baseball players from three of its high schools to participate overseas.  That’s nice, but the school district didn’t have a junior high baseball program; and I wondered if the community fundraising might not have been used to provide new opportunities for more student-athletes.

About the same time, there was an effort to fund one basketball player from each of a league’s schools to compete in an international basketball tournament.  The cost was $2,200 for each student; and again I wondered if those communities might not have uses for the money that could provide benefit to more student-athletes.

Why do we spend thousands on a few when the same amounts of money could restore or expand opportunities for many?  Why do we focus on the fortunate few while the foundations of our programs rot through eliminated junior high programs and pay-for-play senior high programs?

No one can argue that some of these trips do some of our students some good.  But do they offer enough good for the few at a time when many students aren’t being offered even the basic opportunities of interscholastic athletics?

Local leadership should say “No” to requests to support expensive international trips.  There’s need for them to put more into the foundation of our programs and less into foreign travel.


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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 44 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 seven years, and is a past-chair of the board of directors of the Michigan Society of Association Executives. He is vice chair and secretary of the board of trustees for the Capital Region Community Foundation.

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.