Going to the Mat

October 4, 2016

Somewhere I heard a speaker say: “The most exciting thing in life is to be shot at ... and missed.”

In a real sense, I wouldn’t know; but metaphorically, that’s somewhat how we’ve felt after a federal district court judge tried unsuccessfully to cripple the Michigan High School Athletic Association in the aftermath of a lawsuit over the placement of sports seasons in Michigan.

Plaintiffs wanted the high school sports seasons for boys and girls to coincide and to mirror the seasons the National Collegiate Athletic Association established after our high school seasons were adopted. With the urging of its member schools, the MHSAA battled for nine years to attempt to retain a sports seasons schedule that allowed schools to use their resources (facilities, coaches and officials) in ways that they could demonstrate promoted higher participation rates by both genders.

Plaintiffs did not get all that they sought in the case, and neither did schools; but the judge ordered the MHSAA to pay $7.9 million, much more than the organization’s assets at that time.

But rather than being the death knell for the MHSAA, these events breathed exciting new life into the organization, the positive effects of which continue today.

The judgment – reduced significantly through negotiations, early payment incentives and insurance and paid off in 18 months – set in motion a review of internal operations that reduced expenditures by $600,000 over 12 months, while sponsorship and broadcast revenue grew by a combined $600,000 during those 12 months.

Eight years later, many of the operational savings continue, and non-tournament revenue is now more than double what it was in the first year following the judgment.

While complaints still come to us from students and citizens in local communities regarding the court-ordered changes for sports seasons, and participation has declined significantly in several of the affected sports – especially girls basketball, girls volleyball and boys tennis – the MHSAA office still continues to enjoy many efficiencies, as well as some euphoria, from the shot-at-but-missed experience.

This comes from the knowledge that we went to the mat for what our schools wanted, fought long and hard, paid a high cost, and came out of it with schools’ respect. In the aftermath, the MHSAA staff and Representative Council came together, and came through it stronger.

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.