A Shift

April 10, 2018

The disease of youth sports generally – observed in premature sports specialization and the commercialization of kids’ games by both local entrepreneurs and corporate giants – is infecting school-based sports, especially basketball.

We see it in transfers by starters and dropouts among reserves.

We see it in short benches for JV and varsity games and empty gyms.

There is no shame in identifying our weak spots; it’s the only way to start fixing them.

And heavens! NCAA men’s basketball is being investigated by the FBI. Players are being ruled ineligible. Coaches are being fired. Others are being arrested.

School-based basketball is beautiful by comparison! But we can and must be better. And that can only begin to happen by facing up to our shortcomings.

The clock is ticking on the life of school-based basketball, and only a change in emphasis – a cultural shift – may save what arguably has been the most historically important sport in our schools. A shift ... 

Away from all-star games for a few graduating seniors and toward junior high/middle school programs open to all kids.

  • Away from national events and toward city, county and conference rivalries.

  • Away from “elite” travel teams and toward local K-6 development programs operated by schools.

  • Away from creeping commercialism and blatant professionalism and toward a re-commitment to amateurism.

  • Away from gamesmanship and toward sportsmanship as a precursor to citizenship.

  • Away from running up the score – a lot – and toward playing every kid – a lot.

The leaders and lovers of school-based basketball must resist the slippery slope and advocate for the cultural shift. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon or rocket scientist to save school-based basketball; but it does take courage and persistence.

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.