Singing Spectators

December 6, 2013

Unlike many of my counterparts who are engaged in the administration of statewide high school athletic associations, I do not seek in my free time to attend other athletic events as a spectator. Nevertheless, more by accident than design, I’ve had an opportunity to see some of the biggest events and most iconic stadia in the United States.

But none of these events or venues holds a candle to the Boca Juniors’ 2-1 victory over Tigre at La Bombonera (“the chocolate box”) in Buenos Aires last month. It was merely a regular-season event between two nearby opponents – nothing special on the world’s soccer schedule. But it was amazing.

We had been warned that the neighborhood was unsafe and the 80,000 members of the Boca Juniors Athletic Club were savage about acquiring tickets for the ancient stadium’s intimate 50,000 seats; and that they were raucous, rowdy spectators. But in the absence of alcohol sales in the stadium and within a five-block radius of the stadium and in the presence of nonstop, nearly choreographed song and gesture – starting 15 minutes before the game until even longer after – this became one of the most enjoyable athletic events I’ve ever attended. Never have I observed a louder or more melodious crowd of spectators.

Except for a halftime rest, the crowd sang without letup, and with a bit more volume and energy for a direct or corner kick. The crowd sang when a home team defender deflected the ball into his own goal early in the first half. It sang louder when the home team scored the tying goal in the 39th minute of the second half. It sang even louder when the home team broke the tie in extra time. And the singing continued as the crowd descended the ancient stadium’s stairwells to the street after the match.

I was surprised to conclude that a professional football match in South America was a more pleasant experience than a professional football game in North America. It had nothing to do with the shape of the ball; it had everything to do with the condition of the crowd – the absence of alcohol and the presence of song.

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.