Cooperative Concerns

July 12, 2016

When an organization receives positive media attention for a policy change, it’s probably best to accept the praise and get back to work. But that could be too easy and miss some teachable moments.

This summer, the Michigan High School Athletic Association has been the recipient of unqualified praise for allowing two or more high schools of any size to jointly sponsor sports teams at the subvarsity level, and for relaxing enrollment limits so that two or more high schools of the same school district could jointly sponsor varsity teams in all sports except basketball and football.

Media seemed to think that this was something revolutionary in Michigan. In fact, the concept of what we call “cooperative programs” in Michigan was borrowed from other Midwest states and began in Michigan during the 1988-89 school year when seven cooperative programs were first approved. Those seven co-ops involved 13 of the MHSAA’s smallest high schools.

Over the next almost three decades, policies have been revised over and over to assist students in schools of larger enrollments, sports of low participation and schools with special circumstances. All of this is admirable; but to be frank, not all results are positive.

The idea of cooperative programs is to increase opportunity. That has often occurred. But increasingly, schools are entering into co-ops not to create new opportunities for participation where they did not exist, but to save opportunities for participation where existing participation is declining – or worse, to combine two viable teams into one to save money.

This trend, and the slight softening of the fundamental principle of educational athletics – that each student competes for his or her own school’s teams – should soften the praise for our most recent expansion of cooperative programs in Michigan.

Entering 2016-17, the MHSAA has nearly 300 high school cooperative programs for nearly 500 sports teams, and nearly 100 junior high/middle school cooperative programs for approximately 340 sports teams. A growing number are not being created with the lofty goals of 1988-89. Instead of the word “create,” we more often see the word “survive” in the cooperative team applications.

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.