The First Time

April 3, 2018

I remember as clearly as if it were yesterday the first time I had to determine a student was not eligible under rules of the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

At that singular moment, it did not matter that I had been able to advise a dozen previous callers that the students they were inquiring about were eligible under the rules. All I could see in my mind’s eye was this one student who would not be able to participate as a full-fledged member of a team in a sport he enjoyed.

I assumed, as I have in almost every case since, that this was a “good kid,” and one who needed sports more than sports needed him.

But the facts made him ineligible and there were no compelling reasons to look beyond the facts. I knew it would be hard on the student to miss a season, but I also knew this was not in any sense an “undue hardship.” I could see that if the rule was not enforced in this case, I would be undermining its enforcement in other cases, and effectively changing the rule.

And I recognized that I did not have the authority to change a rule which the MHSAA Representative Council and each member school’s board of education had adopted to bring consistency and control to competitive athletics.

Many years have passed, and I’ve had to consider the eligibility of countless students to represent their schools on athletic teams. But I still see each situation as an individual student, balancing his or her individual needs and desires against the need to protect the integrity of the rules and the desire to promote competitive equity within the program.

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.