If Not Now, When?

October 2, 2012

The greatest disappointments I experience in the administration of educational athletics are when I observe the program miss the opportunity to educate students in ways that will instill positive character traits.  It happens in little ways every day; and sometimes it happens in really big ways when we fail to require people to accept the consequences of their actions.

During and immediately following a Regional Tennis match several years ago, a student displayed the kind of sportsmanship that offended everyone’s sense of appropriate behavior.  There was no question he behaved badly, although the student and parents had many excuses for the behavior.

While the player was not disqualified at the time, his coach, athletic director and principal agreed the player should be withheld from the Final tournament, consistent with suspensions applied to other students in other sports at other times.  The parents appealed the decision and the central office overturned the building level decision because “missing the Final tournament was too severe a penalty.”  If it had been a regular-season contest, not the MHSAA Finals, the student would have been suspended.

So, what’s the lesson here?  There are consequences for inappropriate behavior so long as it’s not an important event for the student and school.  What kind of lesson is that?

And what a problem!  For this lesson teaches that exceptions will be made for better players and bigger events, that standards of acceptable behavior are related to the persistence of the parents and the prestige of the competition.

The problem is that if people are not held accountable for their behavior in high school athletics, whenever will they?  The problem is that if people are not held accountable for their acts – i.e., fail to develop character – a world going bad is going to get there faster.

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.