Shared Leadership

February 3, 2012

My introduction to high school athletic associations began when I was eight years old, when my father became the chief executive of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association.  I learned about the work around the dinner table, by tagging along to Dad’s office, and by attending tournaments or accompanying him to banquets where he spoke.

My understanding of high school athletic associations broadened and deepened during the nearly eight years I served on the staff of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

So, even before I began my tenure as the MHSAA’s executive director, the essence of the work was in my bones.

In my father’s time and during my early years here in Michigan, the leadership model of a high school athletic association office was top down.  The chief executive generated or personally reviewed every piece of correspondence, and staff referred every important decision to the boss.

That leadership model is no longer practical, or even possible.  Too much is happening on so many different fronts for the chief executive-oriented model to do anything other than slow progress and frustrate people (both within and outside the office).

For today and the foreseeable future, the leadership model must be flat and diversified.  The chief executive must allow staff to gain expertise in a growing array of complicated topics and empower staff to execute freely.  It is impossible for a single person to gain the knowledge or have the time to lead a progressive, service-oriented high school athletic association; and I’m blessed to have had an experienced and passionate MHSAA staff to share the leadership opportunities and responsibilities.

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.