Disappointing Seasons

June 24, 2013

It is appropriate to take the longest day of the year to address one of the long tails of the longest lawsuit in MHSAA history.

In August of 2002, a US District Court gave Upper Peninsula schools three choices for remediating gender discrimination in their sports seasons. They were told to switch seasons for girls volleyball and basketball and do one of three additional things:

    1.    Place boys and girls in the same season in all sports; or
    2.    Place UP seasons at the same time as Lower Peninsula seasons in all sports; or
    3.    Switch UP boys and girls seasons in either soccer or tennis.

For a host of reasons in this state and all others, it has made good sense for many sports to schedule boys and girls in different seasons; and for very many years for many good reasons, UP schools have scheduled their seasons differently than LP schools in several sports. So options 1 and 2 were non-starters.

As for the third option: after girls volleyball and girls basketball, the sport for which UP schools least wanted to have switched seasons was tennis. So soccer was the UP sport selected for the court-approved switched seasons for boys and girls.

In July of 2007, the Federal Court denied a Motion by Intervenors to extract UP soccer from its earlier Order so that UP soccer would not be forced to switch seasons for boys and girls. At the same time in a separate Order, the Federal Court denied a Motion to extract LP tennis from the earlier Order.

The LP tennis community was and is as unhappy with the Federal Court Order as the UP soccer community. In fact, LP tennis has had the greatest participation loss of all sports since the seasons changes, including an almost 23 percent decline in boys tennis participation. Almost one-quarter fewer boys are playing high school tennis today than before the seasons switched in the LP!

In any event, the Federal Court determined in 2007 that the switching of boys and girls seasons in LP tennis and UP soccer was legal (after all, the Court itself had offered the changes as acceptable options in 2002); and the Court said that the MHSAA had gone to extremes to explain all the options to schools and listen to their opinions.

Demonstrating their characteristic independence, UP schools have not switched their boys and girls soccer seasons; and some now want the MHSAA to make an exception so they can play in the MHSAA’s fall boys tournament and spring girls tournament. But unlike those schools, which are not specifically addressed in the Federal Court Order, the MHSAA is subject to that Order and cannot make exceptions or grant waivers without violating the Court’s Order.

Based on the rationale of the 2007 Court Order, there is only a slim chance the Federal Court would ever modify its Order. The best chance will occur when there is a Motion filed jointly by the original parties to the lawsuit. It must address both genders, not just girls. It must be a permanent solution, not a temporary exception. It must require no other sport season be changed, for that would just upset another sport community and derail this effort.

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.