Volleyball Faceoff

July 14, 2015

The leadership of school-sponsored sports found itself face to face with “the enemy” recently.

The 96th Annual Summer Meeting of the National Federation of State High School Associations overlapped dates and shared hotels, restaurants and sidewalks with the USA Volleyball 2015 Girls Junior National Championships during late June and early July in New Orleans.

This mega-tournament drew fields of 24 to 72 teams in each of 30 divisions, with each of the approximately 1,000 teams paying from $650 to $900, providing an attractive payday for USAV. In addition, this was a dreaded “stay and play” tournament that required teams to book rooms at the designated hotels that provided kickbacks to the organizers.

USAV raked in the dollars which the parents I spoke to seemed only mildly distressed to pay because they had bought into the fantasy that this sort of extravagance is necessary to help their daughter reach the “next level.”

Next level? Some of these parents couldn’t even find the next court for their daughter’s match among the 80 courts on which competition was held, and missed parts of matches they had paid hundreds of dollars in club and travel expenses to attend. This was about quantity of teams, much more than quality of experience.

And what, after all, is the next level for a girl playing on an “Under 13 Team” ... Under 14?

If the “next level” means college volleyball, then parents haven’t been told of the lottery-like odds they face. Making any college team that offers any financial aid based on volleyball skill is a mere fantasy for almost every girl and it’s a futile strategy for those parents to fund their daughter’s college education.

In sharp contrast, I’m reassured that we’ve got it right in school-based volleyball, where the focus is on scholarship in high school, not athletic scholarships to college; on learning in many practices more than competing in many tournaments; on local events, not national travel; where MHSAA tournaments are free to enter, and matches are conducted one at a time on the arena’s one and only court, with the school’s student section cheering the team on.

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.