Internal Medicine

March 20, 2018

When I express concerns for the health of high school basketball, I’m not confusing our problems with the corruption of major college men’s basketball that is under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Yes, there are some tentacles that reach us, and taint us; but the problems that plague us most are more basic and local.

The concerns I have for high school basketball are captured in scenes that play out much too often across the membership of the Michigan High School Athletic Association. For example:

  • Declining participation, with JV and varsity rosters too small to practice 5-on-5 at either level.
  • Increasing forfeits.

  • Ugly mismatches, with scores so lopsided that it is hard to imagine much teaching or learning can occur.

  • Starters transferring; reserves dropping out.

  • Confrontations between parents and coaches.

  • Faculty coaches becoming a vanishing breed.

These kinds of concerns do not flow from the top down – we can’t blame these issues on the NCAA and NBA. No, our more persistent and perplexing problems percolate up from the youth level.

Often the students who come to our programs have participated in youth sports programs for five to 10 years before they join a school team. They arrive with expectations that often differ from what is intended for school-based programs. They’ve been in a different environment; they have different expectations.

And much of what is coming with youth sports begins to infect school sports. 

There is no vaccination that will be 100 percent effective in immunizing us. There is no single solution that can quickly reverse these negative trends in school-based basketball and other school sports. The efforts must be systemic and long-term. And among the efforts that must be made are these

  • More attention to coaches education – every coach, every year – where the ethics of educational athletics and the meaning of success in school sports provide the core of the curriculum; and
  • More attention to junior high/middle schools – more opportunities for 6th- through 8th-graders to sample school sports and to savor an experience that puts team before individual and learning ahead of winning.

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.