On the Hook

March 12, 2013

The over-arching theme of interscholastic athletic administration today is the health and safety of our student participants.  It’s always our most important concern but now, by both self-serving and serious advocates, it’s being made a political football – actually more like a soccer ball being kicked back and forth and back again, resulting in about as much chance of scoring any positive goals as a World Cup soccer game will have in scoring any goals at all.

We are daily being distracted, and taken off our tasks, by symbolic more than substantive proposals to require this, that or the other thing to protect children from the risk of injury – regardless of grassroots input and without regard to grassroots resources.  Zealous advocates for child safety wish to protect children from any risk of physical exertion, while in the next breath they complain of youth inactivity and obesity.  And those who are trying to increase participation AND the quality of that experience – that’s us – become the targets of criticism.  Often, those who have never done anything, blame those who have done a lot, for not doing enough.

Our frustration is flowing from the health and safety “idea du jour” to which we must respond, knowing that every time we fail to gush over some legislator’s or advocate’s notion, we invite the characterization that we are uncaring, lazy or arrogant, or all of the above.  What we are doing is protecting schools from ubiquitous, onerous mandates which no one else in the school community is taking notice of because, appropriately, they are focused on the impossible task of providing an ever-expanding list of required services to an ever-increasing percentage of school-aged children with an ever-increasing list of problems, with the expectation that all of them will perform at ever-improving levels of achievement.

But even with all these disclaimers, I can’t let us off the hook.  There are some things we can do and must do to better meet our highest calling in educational athletics which, if we’ve lost sight of it in the confusing clutter of challenges, is not only to do no harm physically to students but also to help instill in them healthy habits for the rest of their lives. Consistent with this high calling, we have obligations to do some critically important things – sometimes in spite of outside interference and sometimes beyond that interference – and do so without delay.  It is about those things that I have been commenting most these past few months, and will continue to address.

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.