Changing Culture

August 21, 2012

It has made good sense that the MHSAA limit its attention to those matters of schools that are related to sports, and leave to others the problems and programs that involve all students and the entire school.  But for several subjects, this general rule needs exceptions.  For example . . .

Over the years we have introduced tobacco, alcohol and other drug use awareness programs through school sports programs, noting that student-athletes can be the leaders to most efficiently change the attitudes of the larger student population.  This has met with modest success; but there are troubling studies that indicate male athletes are actually more likely than other students to use and abuse alcohol.  So today we can justify the use of resources on tobacco, alcohol and other drug education not only because it is helpful for reaching other students, but also because the sports program itself needs this attention.

In the wake of a hazing tragedy in the marching band program of one university and the sexual abuse tragedy in the football program of another, I have been convicted to think more about programs under our watch here at the MHSAA and to think about how local school sports programs can be involved in improving the safe culture of our schools, which from time to time even here in Michigan have witnessed embarrassment and heartbreak.

Here at the MHSAA we are reviewing and plugging holes in our policies and procedures for MHSAA events where adults and students directly interact, which occurs much more now than a decade ago.  This includes everything our Student Advisory Council does, our Women in Sports Leadership Conference and other student leadership events, as well as the locker room and lodging policies for MHSAA tournaments.  It is likely that many local schools are years ahead of us on such policies, and we will learn and borrow from them.

Where schools might do more is to address bullying, hazing and all other forms of harassment; and it may be that – as with tobacco, alcohol and other drug education – sports not only can be used as a vehicle for changing the culture of schools, sports may also have a special need for the attention, and for a change in culture.

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.