By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Noting growing concerns for the health risks to young people who specialize too early and narrowly on a single sport, the Michigan High School Athletic Association is creating a task force to work throughout 2016 on promoting the benefits of multi-sport participation.
The task force is expected to develop strategies and tactics for the MHSAA and its member schools to deliver to coaches, athletes and parents that will demonstrate the high risks and limited rewards of early and intense focus on a single sport. A January 2017 campaign launch is anticipated.
The task force will be small in number but consist of both administrators and coaches who represent the diversity of schools and communities in Michigan. Their discussions will be monitored by MHSAA communications staff, who will be designing tactics to implement the ideas and initiatives that the task force discusses.
“For years it seemed educators were alone in promoting the multi-sport experience as the best for young people,” MHSAA Executive Director John E. “Jack” Roberts said. “Rather suddenly, these voices have been joined by high-profile coaches and athletes and supported by a growing body of research.
“Major college football coaches, members of the USA Women’s World Cup Soccer championship team, Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz, PGA golfer Jordan Spieth and others demonstrate to us that the multi-sport experience is the healthiest and happiest way to participate in youth sports.”
More than 40 national and international sports organizations have joined a movement called “Project Play” which advocates the multi-sport experience as the safer, healthier and happier sports participation journey. The task force also will benefit from its relationship with the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University and with Sparrow Health Systems.
“The risks of over-specialization in sports – that is, a focus too early and too intense on a single sport – are greater than all other youth sports health risks combined,” Roberts added. “They need at least as much attention as we’ve brought to reducing the risks of heat stroke, cardiac episodes and concussions.”
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.