Well Before Their Time
July 18, 2017
The 2017-18 school year is the 55th that the MHSAA has operated as a not-for-profit corporation, and the 93rd year it has existed under the name Michigan High School Athletic Association. It existed under that and different names and structures for nearly three decades before that.
Now, in an age when conventional wisdom is widely criticized, and advocating for change is sexier than arguing for the status quo, it is perilous to pay respects to those who gave form and focus to the MHSAA. But before anyone dismisses these thoughts as archaic sentimentalism, it should be noted that the pioneering leaders of schools and school sports in Michigan were bold, cutting-edge administrators, far ahead of their time in many ways. For example,
They had organized and professionally staffed a statewide high school athletic association in Michigan by 1924, well before most states – perhaps only Illinois and Wisconsin were more advanced in this regard.
It was the leaders of this time, before all other states, who conducted high school tournaments for schools in separate classifications based on enrollment.
It was they who, 20 years earlier, had transformed a brutal sport called football, promoted by gamblers and dominated by over-age semi-pros, by transferring control from communities and colleges to high schools, then became the first state to require helmets to be worn by all players at all times during interscholastic games, and then abolished spring football for high school teams.
And it was they, with leaders of three dozen like-minded state high school associations across the U.S., who challenged the status quo and brought a stop to national high school basketball tournaments.
In the 1920s, the most prestigious of several national tournaments was conducted at the University of Chicago. It was for boys only, and mostly for large city schools. However, the 1920s closed with two actions that signaled the end of this and other national tournaments.
First, the Detroit Public Schools announced they would no longer participate in so-called national championships – not in basketball, nor in national track and swimming championships. Their travel would henceforth be limited to Michigan (and for a time, only to Detroit).
Second, on Feb. 25, 1929, the National Council of the National Federation of State High School Associations went on record against national basketball tournaments. The resolution contained this prophetic preamble:
“WHEREAS, Our high school athletics are constantly being exploited by agencies and for purposes generally devoid of any educational aims and ideals, specifically, for purposes of advertising, publicity, community, institutional and personal prestige, financial gain, entertainment and amusement, the recruiting of athletic teams and other purposes, none of which has much in common with the objectives of high school education; and
“WHEREAS, This exploitation tends to promote a tremendously exaggerated program of interscholastic contests, detrimental to the academic objectives of the high schools through a wholly indefensible distortion of values, and, in general subversive of any sane program of physical education; ...”