Rush to Ridicule

February 5, 2016

Last month the statewide high school athletic association of a neighboring state sent to its member schools a reminder of its sportsmanship standards. From almost all media reports you would have thought the association did a terrible thing.

In fact, the athletic association did nothing wrong – nothing that it and similar organizations have not done many times before to point people away from declining standards of sportsmanship prevalent in other programs and point people toward behavior that is more appropriate for an educational setting – i.e., in programs sponsored and conducted by educational institutions.

Then one of that athletic association’s schools did an unsurprising thing – and what dozens of schools, perhaps hundreds of schools, have done many times before. It distributed the athletic association’s message to its students and coaches.

Where this good work went bad was an isolated incident where one student-athlete at one school posted a profane reaction on social media, criticizing the message; and the student’s school suspended the student from a few contests.

That’s the story. But it’s been mangled by most professional and social media which have rushed mindlessly to ridicule the athletic association.

The association was not wrong to promote positive cheering sections and mutual respect during athletic events. And the association is taking an amazingly high (sportsmanlike?) road to say that it will use this media fiasco as an opportunity to review its sportsmanship guidelines.

We have proven in this state through our Battle of the Fans, a contest conceived by our Student Advisory Council, that cheering sections can be larger and louder by encouraging positive behavior; fun that is also respectful. We prohibit no specific cheers, but we promote positive cheers and the schools where that is the norm.

In a society where standards of all kinds appear to be slipping, this is praiseworthy work.

Click here to follow the MHSAA Battle of the Fans Contest

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.