By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Signs and banners were displayed at stadiums. Announcements were made to the crowd.
And most of all, questions were answered concerning the current role of the Michigan High School Athletic Association in junior high/middle school athletics – and the increased role the Association would like to take on in the future.
Throughout May, the MHSAA served as presenting sponsor at junior high/middle school track & field meets at Ravenna, Harrison, Grand Blanc and Saginaw White Pine Middle School.
This sponsorship pilot program was a first step on the path to making stronger connections with student-athletes before they reach high school. The MHSAA provided meet management with banners and other signage to hang at the events, and public address announcements on sportsmanship, multi-sport participation, officials recruitment and other notable topics affecting competitors and their families.
Also made available were printed materials on sportsmanship, officials recruitment and the benefits of taking part in junior high/middle school sports. And as part of the opportunity, the MHSAA donated grants of $500 to help with the administration of those meets – again, all in the name of getting the MHSAA message in front of students years before they reach high school.
“I couldn’t believe how many people did not realize middle schools were connected to the MHSAA. That in itself was huge for publicity,” said Damon Amey, athletic director at White Pine. “I feel that if they know we are members, they immediately know we follow a set of rules. We are student-first oriented.”
The MHSAA served 740 junior high/middle school members, plus 24 elementary schools with 6th graders participating, during the 2016-17 school year – up from 705 junior high/middle schools only a year before.
Junior high/middle schools long have been eligible for membership in the MHSAA. An entire section of the MHSAA Handbook is dedicated to them. But the Association also has turned a heavier focus toward that level over the last four years.
The MHSAA Representative Council approved the creation of a Junior High/Middle School Task Force during its December 2013 meeting, and that task force was instrumental in the addition of 6th grader participation this past school year and the lengthening of contests in some sports. The Council this spring approved a recommendation by the Junior High/Middle School Committee (a permanent committee separate from the task force) urging all MHSAA sport committees to consider opportunities to add more games and dates to middle school schedules.
Last month’s sponsorship pilot program also stemmed from this recent work.
“We need to, for the future of high school sports, get more involved at the junior high/middle school level,” said MHSAA assistant director Cody Inglis, who oversees the Junior High/Middle School Committee and led the task force. “It’s not a matter of should we, but how quickly can we get involved.”
Inglis served as something of an ambassador in setting up and attending multiple sponsored junior high/middle school meets. Because of the perception that the MHSAA is mostly associated with high school athletics, Inglis noticed some curious and questioning looks in response to the visible presence of the Association at those meets.
But there were more positives, by far. On multiple occasions, the winners of the meets asked to have their team photos taken with the MHSAA banner on the field. One team took individual photos of each athlete holding the trophy in front of the banner as well.
While not many, Inglis did have conversations about officiating with a handful of interested people – good news as the MHSAA is always in pursuit of adding to those numbers. And his presence gave fans an opportunity to ask about the MHSAA’s role both at the high school and junior high/middle school level – and gave him the opportunity to explain how the Association works and dispel some myths.
“I love the fact that the MHSAA was at our conference track meet,” Montague NBC Middle School athletic director Jay Mulder said. “Cody did a great job in talking with parents, athletes and coaches. The presence was just enough to get people to take notice of the MHSAA.
“As a middle school AD and a middle school coach, I am very encouraged and excited to see the active role that the MHSAA is taking with middle school sports. I think that it bodes well for the future.”
Amey noted a number of opportunities with printed materials and championship medals that could further promote the MHSAA’s messaging at junior high/middle school meets. Also part of future plans is the recruitment of regional “ambassadors” – retired coaches, athletic directors and officials would be among candidates – who will travel to junior highs and middle schools in their areas and grow connections at that level.
As members, junior highs and middle schools receive the structure and support of MHSAA rules and governance, and every athlete receives catastrophic and concussion care insurance managed by the MHSAA. More interaction by these ambassadors could lead to more membership – the meet at White Pine, for example, included nearly half non-MHSAA schools – and also more benefit to members, be it additional sponsorship, off-field programs or even MHSAA-created championship events to give those athletes more opportunities to shine at this lower level and as they work toward taking that big step to high school.
“It’s been like a light bulb has gone off,” Inglis said. “The brand of the MHSAA is viewed as a high school-only brand, and it was humbling to see the power in that brand as people look to the ultimate goal.
“However we can parlay that into more of a presence and use that brand to get involved in school sports at the younger levels, that helps in that transition.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Students from Grand Blanc West Middle School, Fenton Schmidt Middle School and Linden Middle School stand together with an MHSAA banner during the Flint Metro League meet last month. (Middle) The Montague NBC Middle School girls track & field team poses with a banner after winning the West Michigan Conference championship. (Photos courtesy of the Grand Blanc and Montague schools’ athletic departments.)
The Representative Council of the Michigan High School Athletic Association began examining several topics during its Fall Meeting, Dec. 1 in East Lansing – including start and end dates of the winter calendar, possible new transfer rule exceptions and emerging sports – that will shape its work during the winter and spring meetings of this 2023-24 school year.
Generally, the Council takes only a few actions during its Fall Meeting, with topics often introduced for additional consideration and action during its meetings in March and May. The Council did take three actions this time as part of larger conversations expected to continue over the next six months.
The Council joined staff discussion on the start and end dates of winter seasons and the possibility of moving up both, which was among topics surveyed as part of the Update Meeting poll completed by administrators during the MHSAA’s annual presentations across the state this fall. Staff will prepare a recommendation for Council to review at a future meeting regarding the 2025-26 school year and beyond.
MHSAA staff also provided a variety of transfer rule issues encountered over the last year, and Council discussed the possibility of adding transfer rule exceptions related to military transfer families, fulltime school employee transfers and students returning from a sports academy or prep school and seeking immediate eligibility. The Council did adopt a change for multi-high school districts (with at least three high schools) that include both boundary and non-boundary schools that more clearly defined where students at those schools have immediate eligibility.
The Council also discussed possible new and emerging sports, including proposals for MHSAA sponsorship received by the water polo and field hockey governing bodies and an anticipated proposal to add boys volleyball to the MHSAA Tournament lineup.
Several more conversations regarded MHSAA postseasons:
- The Council reviewed the work of the Football Task Force and considered a staff recommendation to have the Football Committee in January discuss possibly capping enrollment of Division 8 11-player schools at 250 students to incentivize schools within that group to play 11-player instead of switching to 8-player.
- MHSAA staff have identified four areas requiring financial increases – MHSAA Tournament officials fees, host schools compensations, manager honorariums and team reimbursements for Finals participants – and the Council discussed the importance of including these when the MHSAA Audit & Finance Committee meets in February to begin the 2024-25 budgetary process.
- The Council also discussed recommendations from the MHSAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee addressing possible requirements of emergency action plans and AEDs at MHSAA Tournament sites.
The Fall Meeting saw the appointment of Wyoming Godfrey-Lee Schools superintendent Arnetta Thompson and Freeland Middle School principal Jennifer Thunberg to two-year terms to the 19-person Council, the first terms for both. The Council also reelected Scott Grimes, superintendent for Grand Haven Area Public Schools, as its president; Brighton High School athletic director John Thompson as its vice president, and Vic Michaels, director of physical education and athletics for the Archdiocese of Detroit, as secretary-treasurer.
The Representative Council is the legislative body of the MHSAA. All but five members are elected by member schools. Four members are appointed by the Council to facilitate representation of females and minorities, and the 19th position is occupied by the Superintendent of Public Instruction or designee.
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.4 million spectators each year.