The Usual Suspects

December 30, 2016

It is difficult to find a year when the 11-player Football Finals of the Michigan High School Athletic Association involved more teams from southeast Michigan than appeared at Ford Field in 2016. In fact, just two counties (Oakland and Wayne) produced seven finalists. But then two counties on Michigan’s west side (Kent and Muskegon) supplied four of the 16 finalists.

Four of Michigan’s 83 counties producing 11 of 16 finalists in the 11-player championship games doesn’t’ feel like a statewide event; but one team from the Upper Peninsula, another from the Leelanau Peninsula in the northwest portion of the Lower Peninsula, and a team located along the Michigan/Ohio border remind us how large and diverse our state really is.

The 2016 MHSAA 11-player Football Finals consisted of many of the “usual suspects,” including two teams pursuing their fourth straight titles and one team seeking its third consecutive championship. Four of the eight 11-player champions from 2015 returned in the attempt to defend their titles in 2016, and two of the runners-up in 2015 were back to try to reverse their fortunes from 12 months earlier.

What is being demonstrated here in Michigan high school football is the trend seen in many other states. That is, as the number of classes or divisions of tournaments expands, the more often you see the same teams in the final rounds.

The surest way to have the “usual suspects” on championship day is to put them in tournaments with fewer schools. And of all MHSAA tournaments, the football playoffs have the most divisions with the fewest schools in each. The result is predictable.

This is a cautionary tale for those who desire that the number of classifications and divisions be expanded in MHSAA tournaments for other sports.

Meanwhile, we are keeping an eye on the tournament format in a neighboring state that places schools into divisions for larger schools after they are too successful over consecutive years in the classification that fits their enrollment. Those in Michigan who have been assigned to review such policies have complained that such “success factors” penalize future students because of the achievements of previous students and/or because such factors do nothing about “chronic success” by schools in the largest classification.

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.