A Backhanded Compliment

April 17, 2012

A year ago this month I listened to the attorney for another statewide high school athletic association pose this question:  “Why is it that people quite readily accept inflexible age limitations over a broad spectrum of American life, including sports, but presuppose it is wrong for school sports?”

This attorney was in the middle of a controversy that more recently has visited the MHSAA:  an overage student seeking relief from a universally applied maximum age rule.  The speaker was perplexed and frustrated by the double standard.

Part of the reason for the double standard rests in the reality that people value the school sports experience so much more than other parts of life, including other sports experiences.  Because they want the opportunity to play, they resort to litigation in an attempt to create the right to play.

Another part of the reason school sports is challenged on an issue on which other programs get a free pass is that school sports has a centralized authority, close to home.  State high school associations are readily accessible targets, easier both to find and to fight with than most other entities with age restrictions.

And, of course, part of the reason for the double standard is the proximity of interscholastic athletics to academics – the former extracurricular, the latter curricular – the former a privilege for most teenagers, the latter a right of all citizens to age 26.

The reasons school sports are attacked on this issue while other entities are not are reasons really complimentary to school sports:  the program is popular, accessible and connected to education.  None of these features of school sports, or its age limitation, should change.

Cheering for Sportsmanship

July 31, 2018

(This blog first appeared on MHSAA.com on January 8, 2013.)

I try to start each new school year at the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association summer camp at Michigan State University. I talk briefly about who the MHSAA is and what it does; and then two or three dozen high school newspaper editors and writers ask me questions; and in doing so, they give me clues to what’s going on in our schools and what’s important to our students.

Several years ago, when I opened the session to questions, one young man asked: “Mr. Roberts, what’s your job?” I paused, and then said, “I guess I’m the head cheerleader for high school sports in Michigan.”

So then this precocious student asked: “Okay, what do you cheer for?”  With a briefer pause, this is some of what I said:

  • I cheer for sportsmanship that’s not merely good, but great.

  • I cheer for sportsmanship, not gamesmanship.

  • I cheer for playing by the rules, both the letter and the spirit.

  • I cheer for maximum effort to try to win each and every contest.

  • I don’t cheer for winning at any cost; I do cheer for learning at every opportunity.

  • I cheer for losing with grace and for winning with even greater grace, with humility and modesty.

  • I cheer for the lessons of victory and the even greater lessons of defeat.