Fit to Fly

February 3, 2017

I suppose I’ve flown more than a half million miles on commercial or chartered aircraft. Nevertheless, it still amazes me to witness a large passenger jet lift off the earth and take to the sky.

Sometimes it has occurred to me that, with enough thrust, almost anything can be made to fly. Of course, the more aerodynamic the object, the less power is needed to send the object into the sky and keep it there.

The metaphor is obvious.

If there is enough force behind it, almost any idea can take flight. However, the best ideas take flight with little effort ... they have been fitted for the intended purpose and the environment ... while bad initiatives require extraordinary effort to get up and keep going.

This doesn't suggest that leaders should always take the path of least resistance. But it does mean leadership should count the costs. Is the amount of effort required to launch an initiative worth the collateral damage? Is the amount of energy required to maintain an initiative worth the results?

The image some people have of the current proposal to seed Boys and Girls District and Regional Basketball Tournaments is of an ungainly object being thrust into the air. It can be done, but should it be done? Will the result be worth it?

The proponents want the Michigan High School Athletic Association to adopt and modify a system used to seed the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament. That's a tournament limited to just 68 of 350 universities that sponsor Division I men's basketball programs. One person collects the scores of all the games involving those teams and enters the data to compute the strength of each team’s record and schedule.

But the MHSAA tournament involves 750 varsity teams for boys and nearly the same number of varsity teams for girls which together play approximately 27,500 games in a single season. There are often more than 350 high school varsity basketball games on a single evening. One person is NOT going to be physically able to collect all those scores and enter all that data. And the MHSAA would be foolish to think that it could be accomplished, and irresponsible to have the basketball tournament experience depend on such a scheme.

Well-intentioned people have unrealistic expectations about this. They don't appreciate the amount of resources the MHSAA would have to put into making this thing fly. We could do it by mandating that every school use the same schedule and score software and conditioning a school’s tournament participation on 100 percent compliance with score reporting.

But even if we launch it and apply even more force to keep it in the air, we have to wonder about the fairness and outcome of easing the path in the MHSAA Basketball Tournaments for teams which had the best regular-season records, at least up to some point before the end of that season when the number crunching would have to stop and pairings and sites would need to be announced.

Three of the four state high school associations that border Michigan have seeding for their high school basketball tournaments (basketball crazy Indiana does not). But those three state associations seed only the first round of the tournament, and those three use no fancy formula ... they have the coaches of the teams assigned by geography to the tournament site meet to separate the better teams in the earliest games.

If there is to be seeding in MHSAA Basketball Tournaments – and that’s a big if – our neighboring states’ approach is more practical and better fitted for an all-comers tournament at the high school level. That might fly, and stay in the air without excessive force.

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.