Dad's Day

April 23, 2012

Today is my father’s 92nd birthday.

Until my wife replaced Dad as my best friend, he doubled as both my best friend and father.

Dad has been inducted into 13 halls of fame nationally, and in Iowa where he was a two-time undefeated state high school wrestling champion, and in Wisconsin where he was a two-time Big Ten wrestling champion for the Badgers before a stellar career as high school and college coach, especially in football and wrestling.  All that before his 29½ year tenure as executive director of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association.

For two decades Dad chaired the national high school wrestling rules committee, and he traveled nationwide to conduct wrestling rules meetings for coaches and officials in states where local expertise in the sport had not yet developed.  It is not a stretch to call him the father of high school wrestling.  Certainly no person had greater influence than he during the sport’s formative years on the high school level.

And no person had more influence over my formative years.

So it is becoming increasingly painful to observe my father falter, as all people do who live as long as he has. Simple tasks require an increasing amount of assistance; significant talks fill a decreasing amount of our time. It is agonizing to one who has adored him.

When Dad served the WIAA, his sharp mind and strong voice would make him a top choice to address the toughest topics at National Federation meetings.  He received the National Federation’s Award of Merit and is a member of its Hall of Fame.

But perhaps the most meaningful memory I have of Dad’s professional life occurred at his retirement event in late 1985 when the person representing the state’s coaches said this:  “John.  We may not have agreed with your every decision, but we never once questioned your motives.”  There can be no higher praise.

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.