Vern Norris

February 20, 2018

For more than two decades, I’ve kept a photograph of Vern Norris on my office desk. I’ve intended this to be a daily reminder that much of what we are able to do now is due at least in part to people who have come before us.

Vern died recently at the age of 89, nearly 32 years after his retirement, having served on the MHSAA staff for 23 years, including as executive director from 1978 to 1986. He had been in declining health during the past year, but not declining spirit. Many people remember Vern as one who would be willing to help almost anyone at any time.

When, in Kansas City, I read his retirement announcement early in 1986, I sent him a congratulatory note. He responded with a personal call during which he asked of my interest in the job. Given my situation at the time – not on staff, not in the state and not in a school or sports administration – this seemed like a wild pitch. But he encouraged me to think about it and, well, the rest is history.

When I leave this job that I have now held and mostly loved for nearly 32 years so far, I intend to follow Vern’s lead. His was a most graceful exit. We spent only five days together in the MHSAA office; and while his advice since then has been rare, his support has always been well done.

I will miss seeing him at this winter’s tournaments and at the Officials Banquet May 5, an event that he began in his first year as MHSAA executive director, an event where we will honor another of Michigan’s officiating leaders with the “Vern L. Norris Award.”

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.