The Next Big Thing

February 16, 2016

The full-time athletic director, without a lot of other duties and with support for clerical matters as well as event supervision, is a situation rarely seen in secondary schools today. That’s bad for students, schools and school sports.

Today, typically the athletic director’s job is divided among many areas of a school’s operations. And when a veteran athletic director retires, moves up or otherwise moves on, it is typical that the “replacement” is an inexperienced person who is given even more to do with less time to do it.

So, when I asked the MHSAA Representative Council in December to talk about and commit to writing what it believes is the “next big thing” the MHSAA should be doing, it was not surprising to me that the consensus was this: “We should be conducting much more Athletic Director In-Service training, both in person and electronically, for both new ADs and veterans; and we shouldn’t shy away from a ‘back-to basics’ approach, with testing.”

The theme of the responses of Representative Council members in December was that as schools are becoming increasingly under-resourced, the MHSAA must do more. Clearly, the Representative Council (as a group) has lower expectations for what schools can do for themselves, and higher expectations for what the MHSAA should be doing to help schools. If there is a worry in all this, it is that the Representative Council is losing confidence in the principle of “institutional control,” and the Council sees the need to place increasing demands on the MHSAA to train, oversee and actually do things that would have been an overreach of our proper role 20 or even 10 years ago.

The transformational idea here – I don’t like it, but perhaps it’s unavoidable – is that the MHSAA must do more because of the reality that overburdened, under-resourced school personnel can only do less. And, if we fail to do more, school sports will continue to create problems for itself, and worse, continue to drift to a point where school sports are barely distinguishable from non-school sports programs.

We are seeing building athletic directors less engaged in the administration of school sports and, in their place, local administrators are depending on third parties to schedule games and assign officials, or they are delegating scheduling and most administrative details to their coaches, an increasing number of whom are nonfaculty members who have more affinity to non-school sports than school sports. This isn’t just happening in skiing, golf and bowling but also in basketball and other sports.

As we inventory the controversies we’ve endured this past fall, we see that in almost every case there was a lack of knowledge or execution at the local level that created a problem which people then were all too ready to blame the MHSAA for. The policy or the organization gets criticized for an individual’s deficient attention or action at the local level. And every controversy is a distraction – it gets in the way of our work, and it adversely affects our ability to convey a positive message about the important role of educational athletics in the lives of students, schools and society.

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.