My Best Man

January 15, 2013

Upon the death of my father last month, a sports writer from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who was preparing a story on my father’s career as athlete, coach and Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association executive director, asked for my insights about Dad and his impact on me.  I could have written a book, but here’s what I had space to say . . . just the right length for a blog:

“Dad served at a time before electronic media and online meetings when state high school association executive directors traveled their states doing rules meetings, thus building stronger relationships with coaches and officials than is common in our work today.  And in Dad's case, because he was THE expert in high school wrestling rules in the United States, Dad traveled the country presenting wrestling rules meetings in states where wrestling was an emerging high school sport.  It is not an exaggeration to say Dad was the ‘father of high school wrestling in America.’

“Dad and I worked together when he headed the WIAA and I was an assistant director at the National Federation of State High School Associations in the 1970s, allowing us to form an even closer bond in both our personal and professional lives than most fathers and sons enjoy.  In those days, when there was a particularly difficult speaking assignment at a national meeting on school sports, Dad would be one of the first people whose name came to mind to address that topic.  He was a forceful speaker; and I expect that my nationwide speaking trail owes a great debt to the many times as a youngster that I traveled with Dad when he gave sports banquet speeches.

“I'm told I idolized Dad when he coached, and know I admired him as a state association executive, and he was my closest male friend ever -- even ‘Best Man’ at my wedding.  He was a great model as a father, husband and leader.

“At his retirement dinner in December of 1985, a spokesperson on behalf of the state's coaches said:  ‘John, we didn't always agree with your decisions, but we never once doubted your motives.’   I can't think of a greater compliment for any man who worked so long in such a controversial line of work, which Dad loved so much.”

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.