A Walk in the Woods

July 3, 2018

(This blog first appeared on MHSAA.com on July 30, 2010)

My wife and I were on a long walk through the woods and back roads of west Michigan this summer when she remarked, “We’re not lost; but we don’t know where we are.”

We knew how to get back to our car, but we didn’t know the direction we were headed. “We’re not lost,” I mused; “but we don’t know where we are.”

That’s an apt description for interscholastic athletics. We could back-track on the path to the origins of this journey, so we’re really not lost. But I don’t know anyone who really knows where we are, which direction we might be headed.

There are few who have viewed interscholastic athletics from more angles than I; but I’m not any clearer about the future than the newest coach or most casual fan. I’ve looked at high school sports as a coach, and as the son of a coach. I’ve been involved as a player, and as the parent of two players. I’m the son of a state leader and the protégé of a national leader. I’ve been an administrator at the state and national levels. I’ve read the old histories and handbooks, and I’ve talked at length with key leaders of the past. But I don’t know where we’re headed.

Where does this path lead that relaxes or eliminates out-of-season practice and competition restrictions for athletes and their coaches? From the repeated complaints of coaches and administrators, it’s evident that path was a bad choice; but how now to find our way back? We’ve taken a few steps back, but we know it was downhill to this point and a tough uphill climb back.

Where, if ever, is the end of this path that leads to more and more commercialization of sports? Where are we being taken as high school associations in other states relax or eliminate amateur and awards rules?

Where are the sporting goods manufacturers and street agents taking high school basketball? Will the game that has captured hearts and minds for generations continue its charm when the pervasive corruption of college basketball is exposed or it infects high school heroes beyond healing?

When, if ever, will the government’s thirst to regulate sports be quenched? Where, if ever, will the requests end for extra protections and privileges for special groups?

When, if ever, will seasons be long enough, travel far enough and the stakes high enough to satisfy promoters? Where are we being taken as high school associations in other states take down the barricades placed on those paths by the pioneers of our programs?

Eventually, on our walk through the woods, my wife and I determined it was time to turn around and head back toward our starting point. We didn’t think we could go any further ahead and still make our way back. We knew we didn’t have the power of mind to remember more turns. We ran out of memory before we ran out of energy.

I worry that some of those who are pushing the limits of high school athletics have forgotten where they parked the car. And having forgotten this, they wander in vain through the woods, trying this turn and that.

They’ve run out of memory, but not energy; and sadly, they drag us along, deceiving us and perhaps themselves that it’s only around the next corner or over the next hill that we will see clearly again or reach our goal.

(Note: This was first published in the MHSAA’s August 1995 Bulletin and in 2000 was included in the book Raising Expectations, which is now a part of the MHSAA Library.)

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.