Carry On

April 27, 2018

For many years my vocation has been that of executive director of the Michigan High School Athletic Association.  My vocation -- not my occupation, which has the connotation of a pastime that merely consumed my days and years, or a space that only my physical presence has been taking up.

No, this has been my vocation, in the sense of the root word “vocari,” which means "to be called.” The MHSAA has not been my job; it’s been my purpose.

Anyone who knows my background would understand.

I grew up at the home of the executive director of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association who was my role model as spouse, father and man. I was a twenty-something staff member of the National Federation of State High School Associations under the mentoring of Clifford Fagan, one of the deepest thinkers in the history of educational athletics. It was he who encouraged me to write about our work.

Anyone who has worked with me, listened to me or read what I've written would understand.

Everything has pivoted on protecting and promoting the core values of school-sponsored, student-centered athletics: policies, procedures and programs that put academics before athletics and attempt to develop the whole child.

For example, I see sportsmanship not as some corny promotion, but as a critical issue of educational athletics. I view good sportsmanship as a precursor to good citizenship. This is not the mindset of a man on the job, but of a man with a mission.

Going forward, those who love and lead school sports in Michigan must avoid doing those easy things that increase the scope and stakes of competition. Instead they must address every day those difficult policies, procedures and programs that enhance the physical, mental and emotional values of interscholastic athletics to students and the value of educational athletics to schools and society.

It's not more competition that is needed in high school sports, but more character. Not more sport specialization that's needed in junior high/middle school sports, but more sport sampling. Less attention to celebrating hype in sports events for youth, but more attention to cultivating life long-habits and good health for adults.

In leaving the MHSAA after 32 years this summer, I will have some regrets ... sad to be leaving the company of great staff and some extraordinary colleagues in our member schools ... sorry that even though we worked so hard and accomplished so much, there is still so much to do to keep school sports safe, sane and sportsmanlike. 

There’s lots to do. Carry on.

Cheering for Sportsmanship

July 31, 2018

(This blog first appeared on 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.