Mission Control

May 5, 2015

As we survey all that might be done in the future to improve the health and safety of student-athletes, it is good discipline to look to the past and recall when hype or hysteria caused well-intentioned people, and some not-so-well-intentioned people, to campaign for solutions to problems that either did not exist or could not be effectively addressed through mandates on school sports.

Over the years, school sports has been asked to address much more than what occurs on the practice or playing field. We’ve been asked to address drunk and then distracted driving; bulimia and bullying; texting and sexting; hazing and homelessness; seat belt use and steroids, which provides a perfect example of the limitations of fixing societal problems through mandates on school sports programs.

After more than a decade of voluntary educational efforts and just about the time when steroid use in schools began to trend downward, state legislatures caught wind of the “problem” and perhaps of potential political gain.

The University of Michigan Institute for Social Research reports that steroid use has been declining since 2005, which was just before the first state – New Jersey – enacted a law requiring schools to test high school athletes. Undaunted, the Texas legislature followed suit three years later. Undeterred, the Florida legislature followed the next year, and then Illinois lawmakers acted.

Florida discontinued its mandated drug testing program after just one year, and Texas is about to end its program, after spending nearly $10 million. Florida conducted 600 tests. Texas ran more than 60,000. Florida had one positive test. Texas reported less than one percent positive tests.

Because leaders of school sports have the statistics to link sports participation with improved attendance, achievement and attitude at school, we make our programs vulnerable to assault by passionate people who want our good programs to fix their bad problems. We have to be careful to avoid a situation where, in trying to address so many of society’s problems, we actually solve none; and worse, become distracted from our core chore of conducting safe, fair and sportsmanlike programs that make schools a happier, healthier place for student academic achievement.

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.