Our Own Worst Enemies

September 26, 2017

The early history of school sports was in four phases. It began as activities that students alone would organize. Then schools saw the need to supervise. Then schools created statewide high school athletic associations to standardize. Then a national federation of those state associations brought an end to corporate and college efforts to nationalize school sports. All of this between the U.S. Civil War and World War II.

The entire history of school sports has had one overriding narrative. Inherent in the struggles that defined each phase of the early history, and every decade since, has been the struggle between those who believe competitive athletics is an asset for schools intent on educating students in body, mind and spirit, versus those who believe interscholastic athletic programs are a distraction at best and, at worst, damaging to the character development of students. There is much evidence to support both sides of this long debate.

Sometimes, the advocates for school-sponsored sports have been, and are, their own worst enemies. What the advocates of school sports must realize is that the more they do to enlarge the scope of school sports ... more games, longer seasons, further travel, escalating hype ... the more they prove that the opponents of school sports have been correct.

As they encourage the chasm between athletics and academics and between school sports' haves and have-nots to widen; as sports teams are outfitted in uniforms that are fancier and funded for travel that is further, while classroom resources are fewer; as sportsmanship declines and athletic transfers increase; the so-called “progressive” thinkers help make the case that competitive athletics is bad for students, schools and society.

Opposition to escalation in school sports is not old fashioned; it's the only way to assure the future of sports in schools ... the only way to save school sports from itself.

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.