No. 1 Worries

December 27, 2017

Editor's Note: This blog originally was posted Sept. 21, 2012, and the theme rings true today.

Fueled by the “No. 1” syndrome, people often worry about and value the wrong things when it comes to interscholastic athletics.

For example, they worry about the eligibility of athletes more than the education of students.  They worry about athletic scholarships to college more than genuine scholarship in high school.  Faced with financial shortfalls, they use middle school athletics as the whipping boy because the No. 1 syndrome causes people to value varsity programs more than junior varsity, and high school programs more than middle school.

It is possible in the subvarsity programs of our high schools (far more than in varsity programs where crowds and media bring pressure to win) and it should be and usually is pervasive in our middle school programs, that participation is more important than specialization, trying more important than winning, teamwork more important than individual honors, and teaching more important than titles and trophies.

At the middle school level, coaches have an opportunity to look down the bench for substitutes without first looking up at the scoreboard.  The scorebook should be kept to see how many students played in the game, not how many points any one player scored.

Here is where education prevails over entertainment in interscholastic athletics.  Here is where philosophy of athletics is more in tune with the mission of the school.  Here is where the taxpayer’s dollar is spent best.

To the degree we introduce large tournaments and trophies into middle level programs, we damage the purity of educational athletics and the purpose of middle school programs.  To the degree we cut middle level programs in the face of budget crises, we succumb to the No. 1 syndrome.

We must expose the No. 1 syndrome for the sickness it is:  a cancerous growth that must be cut out of educational athletics before it leads to cutting out what is arguably the most educational parts of interscholastic athletics:  middle school programs.

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.