Fresh Air

June 30, 2014

On well over 300 of every 365 days each year I take a brisk early morning walk. One of the many things I’ve noticed over the years is how the smell of the exhaust of even a single passing automobile will stale the fresh air for several minutes after the vehicle is out of sight. 

I’ve often thought there was a metaphor here that I could use in commenting on school sports; and my recent reading of Alistair MacLeod’s No Great Mischief gave shape to that thought when the novel’s central character said:

“. . . when we came to intersections, we would have to stop and then the blue whiteness of the exhaust would overtake us. We could see it and smell it. We thought we had left it behind us somewhere back on the road, but when we slowed down, it seemed to overtake and surround us.” 

What we have in school sports that none of the so-called more “prestigious” brands of sports offer is fresh air. Purity. Wholesomeness.

This is our trump card, our ace-in-the-hole. 

We lack the resources to compete on a marketing or promotional level with college and professional sports; and we look foolish and waste resources when we try.

But when we focus on local rivalries between nearby opponents – complete with pep bands and marching bands, fully-clad cheerleaders, pep assemblies, letter jackets and Homecoming parades and dances – we play to our strength. We’re local, amateur and just a touch corny. Charming is a better word.

As we travel in this direction, the air is clean and fresh. As we slow or even stop at the intersection of other choices, we will smell the foulness in the air and know immediately that the only course for educational athletics is the road we’re already on.

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.