Why Not National Events?

October 7, 2016

The constituent groups of the National Federation of State High School Associations are engaged in a deliberate discussion of the merits of conducting national high school sports championships. The topic has been raised and rejected by the National Federation membership multiple times over many years.

Support for such events is infrequently merit-based and more often found where political pressures have assaulted policies that have prohibited schools from participation in national tournaments by school teams and students representing schools. Opposition is based in both philosophical and practical concerns.

Proponents of national tournaments say such events will provide a platform to promote education-based athletic programs, but what we would often see – teams full of transfer students missing a lot of school – would undermine any positive promotional message. We would be saying one thing but doing another.

While more promotion of what we believe in might be nice, opponents believe national tournaments would worsen everyday problems and especially the most unsavory problems of school sports, namely undue influence and athletic-related transfers.

Opponents see national events as symptomatic of the "select the best and forget the rest" virus that is infecting much of youth sports that is neither school-sponsored nor student-centered. They see national events as causing school sports to move from ally to adversary of schools' educational mission. They see more loss of classroom instructional time, more travel, more costs and more local fundraising that saps community resources. They see the rich getting richer ... more for a few "haves" and less for most others, and nothing for the "have nots."

With each state having made its own decisions regarding when sports seasons will occur, many opponents wonder how any national tournament can serve the wide variety of seasons in place. Some sports that occur in the fall in one state are conducted in the winter or spring in other states. Even when sports occur in the same season in two states, the seasons may start and end two, three or four weeks differently. Do we really want our programs to place even more pressure on kids and coaches to specialize in a single sport year-around?

With each state having made its own decisions regarding the maximum number of contests, who is going decide what the national rule will be? Will it be the 18 games of one state or the 36 games of another? With each state having made its own decisions regarding age rules and transfer rules and out-of-season coaching rules, who is going to make and enforce these and all the other rules that must apply to all to assure the competition is fair?

And with four Michigan High School Athletic Association champions in most sports, which do we choose to represent our state? Do we really need to demean the champions of three classifications or divisions by advancing the fourth? Do we want our state finals to be the qualification for another level, or the ultimate experience for MHSAA member schools and students?

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.