Uyl Follows Roberts in MHSAA SUCCESSion

By Rob Kaminski
MHSAA benchmarks editor

December 7, 2018

The strength of the MHSAA decade after decade has been solid local school administration under the direction of insightful leaders at the state office in Lansing. New Executive Director Mark Uyl is prepared to build on that foundation while meeting challenges old and new as his tenure begins.

Even if he didn’t know it while it was happening, Mark Uyl spent a great deal of his life honing skills that would lead to his selection as the fifth-ever executive director of the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

Growing up in the world of sports officiating, communication, conviction and the ability to enforce rules and regulations come with the territory. Those who can’t cultivate such skills quickly get out, or get found out.

A decorated and lengthy career in officiating at the high school and collegiate levels serve as testimony that Uyl indeed excelled in those areas.

Those traits, Uyl says, figure to serve him well as he trades in his 14-year-old assistant director’s chair for his seat at the helm of the Association.

“I think the biggest adjustment is that you have to have thick skin and the stomach for enforcement of regulations,” Uyl said. “As an assistant director, I worked with committees and forwarded ideas. Now, as the ultimate decision-maker, I know that some people are going to be happy and some will be upset. I understand that some of this comes with territory.

“I think my officiating background helps. At the end of the day, our members expect that we will follow our rules and enforce our rules. Everyone loves having rules until the day comes when those rules affect ‘our school,’ or ‘our community.’ That’s when the ability to stand firm by the rules determined by our membership will help guide us through the process.”

Officials also listen a lot, many times to people who aren’t happy. That, too, is a skill Uyl brings to the table, not only through his experience in stripes or behind the mask, but also from his years as an educator and assistant director with the MHSAA.

“One of the things I am most proud of since coming to the MHSAA is that I believe I served as a caring voice for officials. They are too often the last people to be defended,” Uyl said. “I think people knew they had a guy who could relate to them and was walking in those same shoes. The relationships I was able to build with many officials in our state is important, and I think that's still an incredibly important function today.”

Other satisfactions came from sports more unfamiliar to Uyl prior to his employment at the MHSAA. Again, listening proved valuable.

“Directing our cross country and wrestling tournaments for many years taught me to be a better listener. Some of the really good things we did in both those sports were improved because we listened to those in the trenches,” Uyl said. “It was a really good lesson. I was probably a better administrator in cross country and wrestling because I was less familiar with those sports and relied on committee expertise. I know baseball, and because of that maybe had too many sacred cows – so to speak – and maybe wouldn’t be as open to ideas.”

Prior to his time at the MHSAA, Uyl first taught and coached and then served as athletic director and assistant principal at Middleville Thornapple-Kellogg High School, the latter from 2001-04. Before becoming an administrator there, Uyl served as athletic director at Caledonia High School in 2000-01.

In his 20-plus years of involvement with educational athletics plenty has changed, some for better and some for worse. Ironically, Uyl cites the same catalyst for both ends of the spectrum.

“Where sports have changed for the better, there are more opportunities than there have ever been. The number of sports – not only in-season, but out-of-season – has increased. There are more options available than ever before. That is often a good thing for kids,” he said.

“But, one of the biggest threats to school sports is the non-school sports economy. More people are making more money at youth, travel and club sport levels. Teachers and coaches in school sports are there to help students learn and grow, to become better people – not just athletes. That’s not always the case outside school sports. Too often, there’s a business dynamic that comes with those sports programs. Parents are quicker to get upset because of the money they've invested; they perceive that their kids are shortchanged by coaches’ decisions or officials’ calls.”

Such experiences can put a dent in officials retention throughout the state, a trend that needs to be reversed.

Uyl knows first-hand the values of positive early experiences in officiating.

“My dad has now been a registered official for 50 years. I grew up seeing what it was like to be an official,” Uyl said. “He ran the youth football, basketball and baseball leagues, and when your dad runs the youth program, you become an emergency official. I’ve always been kind of a rules guy anyway, so I liked that aspect and I also liked the money it put in my pocket. That was my job. I never had a job in fast food, landscaping, or anything like that. It was officiating.”

Uyl officiated collegiate baseball from 1997 until last June, putting away the gear following his 11th NCAA Division I Regional assignment. Working major conference baseball across the United States already put Uyl in elite company, but the pinnacle came with his appointment to the 2014 and 2017 College World Series crews in Omaha. He served as a college football referee for 10 years with several NCAA postseason assignments, and was coordinator of officials for the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association. He was registered with the MHSAA for at least three sports beginning in 1992 and worked the Baseball Finals in 1999.

Uyl graduated from Caledonia High School in 1992 and from Calvin College in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in history and physical education. He later received a master’s in educational leadership from Grand Valley State University. At Calvin, Uyl was a four-year starter on the baseball team, earning all-conference honors twice and serving as team captain.

Following college, there was little doubt as to his career path.

“In high school, I was just very, very fortunate to have a handful of people who made a huge impact on me as role models. Those people were teachers and coaches,” Uyl said. “I thought, ‘These are pretty impressive people, and hopefully there will be a day when I can give others the same kind of great experiences I had.’ Those coaches and teachers at Caledonia were great motivators.”

His passion for education and athletics made it difficult to imagine ever wanting to make a change professionally, until the opportunity at the MHSAA presented itself. Again, it was officiating that helped tilt the scales.

“At that time it was probably the hardest decision I have had to make in my life because I enjoyed teaching and coaching so much, but saw this opportunity in 2004 as the chance of a lifetime,” Uyl recalled. “Being able to help train and support 10,000 officials statewide was too good of an opportunity. If I didn't like officiating so much, I'd likely have stayed in the school system.”

As a sport director, Uyl has sought to create the best experiences for Michigan high school teams, including with the move of the MHSAA Baseball and Softball Finals to Michigan State University in 2014.

“The foundation built here by Jack Roberts over the last 32 years is the strongest in the country, and I’m honored to have the opportunity to lead our staff in building on that foundation,” Uyl said. “There will be many ways we’ll continue to protect the same values of educational athletics, while also looking for new ways and new opportunities to best serve the students and our member schools in Michigan.”

As assistant director, Uyl was instrumental as the MHSAA became the first state high school athletic association to offer concussion care insurance, which provides gap coverage to assist in covering costs for athletes who are injured while participating in MHSAA-sponsored sports.

As the new school year is underway with more immediate targets such as the changing transfer rule for 2019-20 and football playoffs and scheduling, Uyl and the MHSAA staff will also keep the well-being of student-athletes in their scope.

“Shortly after beginning my new role here, I met with some folks in the medical community, and it was interesting to hear that mental health among adolescents has become a huge priority,” Uyl said. “I had a doctor tell me that where he used to spend most of his days treating injuries and illnesses, now it’s just as much – or more – depression, anxiety and other mental health issues among school-age children that he is seeing. This certainly is an area that we have to keep at the forefront; how can we assist or provide programs to heighten awareness?

“We always assume that kids who play sports are the most healthy because they are busy and engaged and have it together, but now we are hearing that there are real mental topics that we need to discuss.”

Another long-range and continuing point of emphasis focuses on participation and multi-sport participation.

“While we have decisions to make regarding football playoffs and scheduling, the conversation needs to turn to participation numbers in that sport,” Uyl said. “We are losing freshman teams, JV teams, and at the youth level the numbers are down, too. Communities that used to have three and four teams now have one. If we don’t get our arms around participation, then all the playoff and scheduling stuff won’t matter in a few years.”

Participation is a hot topic for more than just the traditional sports like football. The MHSAA will continue to focus efforts toward multi-sport participation to combat specialization trends, and also bolster its presence at the junior high/middle school level, where students get their first taste of school-based athletics.

And even with 18 sports available to MHSAA member schools, Uyl promises to evaluate changing interests of students, which could lead to expanded opportunities.

“We will look with an objective eye to determine whether what we've traditionally offered continues to fit, and also look at expansion,” Uyl said. “The one that gets eyes rolling to anyone over 35 is e-sports, but to 20-somethings that could be the next big thing. We will also continue to be an inclusive organization, working closely with organizations such as Special Olympics. Our goal and purpose needs to involve all kids as their interests change with the times.”

Uyl is the fifth full-time executive in the MHSAA’s 94-year history, following Charles E. Forsythe (1931-42, 1945-68), Allen W. Bush (1968-78), Vern L. Norris (1978-86) and Roberts (1986-2018).

Uyl resides in DeWitt with his wife Marcy, an accomplished educator who has served as a high school varsity basketball coach since 1994. They have three children: Jackson (17), Grant (15) and Madison (11).

“Mark was the obvious choice to become the next executive director of the MHSAA,” said Roberts, who passed the torch after 32 years, and whose name now adorns the Association’s headquarters on Ramblewood Drive in East Lansing. “Mark has the proper student-focused perspective of educational athletics, excellent person-to-person communications skills and a deep practical understanding of what is happening day to day in school sports here and nationally.”

As they say in officiating, it was a good call.





Leading State's Schools a Labor of Love

The names – Norris, Bush, Forsythe – at one time synonymous with school sports in Michigan, are sometimes today more connected to MHSAA awards or meeting rooms at the home office in East Lansing.

But before the Norris Award recognized excellence in officiating, or the Bush Award lauded contributions to the MHSAA, or the Forsythe Award heralded excellence in athletics, these were the men who captained the MHSAA ship ahead of recently retired Jack Roberts.

Charles Forsythe was the MHSAA’s first executive director, guiding the Association from 1931-68. He was followed by Allen Bush, who took the reins from 1968-78 after serving under Forsythe as an assistant director from 1960-63 and as associate director from 1963-68. Vern Norris succeeded Bush in 1978 and would direct the MHSAA until 1986. From there it would be Roberts, whose 32-year term was second in length only to Forsythe’s span. During Roberts’ final days in August, he enjoyed a ceremony during which the current MHSAA building was named for him.

The four former executive directors had in common the traits of leadership, vision and passion, and always placed the good of scholastic sports at the forefront when weighing proposals and decisions.

The MHSAA was founded in 1924, when a different Forsythe, L.L., began an 18-year term as president of its Representative Council. In 1931, Charles Forsythe became the MHSAA’s first full-time executive director, a post he would occupy for 37 years.

A native of Milan and graduate of University of Michigan, Charles Forsythe was the athletic director at Lansing Central High School from 1923 until 1929 when he became the assistant director of athletics with the MHSAA. Two years later, he became the first executive director, guiding the Association until 1968 for all but a 37-month tour during World War II as a Navy Commander.

Forsythe was one of the first and finest authors on the topic of interscholastic athletics, and his “Administration of high school athletics” was used by administrators around the globe at that time.

In 1951, he received the Honor Award for the American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation, and in 1965 Eastern Michigan University presented him with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Forsythe died in December 1968, months after his August retirement from the MHSAA.

Bush served under Forsythe from 1960 until he began his 10-year term as executive director in 1968. Bush oversaw some of the most significant developments in MHSAA history, chiefly the addition of girls sports – MHSAA tournaments existed for nine girls sports when he retired – plus the addition of football playoffs in 1975, and MHSAA tournaments in baseball, ice hockey and skiing.

Bush was a graduate of Kalamazoo University and later earned multiple bachelor’s degrees from Western Michigan University and a master’s in school administration from University of Michigan. He was captain of the football team at WMU and received its Most Valuable Player and Athletic-Scholarship awards as a senior, and later was named Man of the Year in 1975 by WMU’s Alumni W Club.

Bush also studied at Princeton University and the University of Arizona and served six years of active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II and the Korean War. He was discharged with a rank of first lieutenant.

Bush died in 2013 at age 90.

Norris served under both Forsythe and Bush, beginning his work at the MHSAA in 1963. He would succeed Bush at the top in 1978.

Norris brought to the MHSAA a wealth of experience having coached at Traverse City, Rockford and Hillsdale high schools. He served as Assistant Director of Placement at Western Michigan University for the five years prior to joining the MHSAA staff, and during that time Norris built a reputation as a highly-regarded game official in the Kalamazoo area – and worked as a referee during the 1963 MHSAA Class A Boys Basketball Final.

Norris served on a number of national rules-making bodies during his 23-year tenure with the MHSAA, and as president of the Executive Board of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) during the 1983-84 school year. But he was best known for his work with Michigan’s coaches and especially officials.

Norris remained a frequent visitor to the MHSAA office prior to his death last February.

Roberts took the controls in 1986 at age 37, then the youngest leader of a high school athletic association, and would leave last August as the longest-serving active director in the nation after 32 years.

Under Roberts’ leadership, overall participation in high school athletics in Michigan increased 10 percent, and the MHSAA added more than 200 schools in increasing its membership by more than 15 percent at the high school and junior high/middle school levels combined. Most recently, in 2016, 6th-graders were allowed to compete for member schools for the first time as a push was made to increase junior high/middle school membership and serve the state’s students at an earlier age.

But the most significant and arguably lasting work influenced by Roberts came on topics not related to specific sports or competition. The MHSAA has led nationally in concussion care with its first programming in 2000 and return-to-play protocols enacted in 2010, and with concussion pilot testing, mandated reporting and insurance for those who suffer head injuries rolled out in 2015.

He is a 1970 graduate of Dartmouth College and previously served as an assistant director for the National Federation from 1973-80. He came to the MHSAA in 1986 from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

PHOTOS: (Top) MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl speaks during an in-service for new athletic directors this fall. (Middle) Jack Roberts stood this summer in front of the building that now bears his name. (Below) Al Bush, Charles Forsythe and Vern Norris.

Rep Council Approves Sponsorship of New Sports, Adjusts Winter Schedule at Spring Meeting

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

May 9, 2024

The Representative Council of the Michigan High School Athletic Association took several actions during its Spring Meeting, May 5-6 in Gaylord, including approving the addition of boys volleyball and girls field hockey to the lineup of MHSAA-sponsored tournament sports beginning in 2025-26 and reorganizing the winter championship calendar to end one week earlier.

The Spring Meeting of the 19-member legislative body of the Association’s more than 1,500 member schools is generally the busiest of its sessions each year. The Council considered 28 committee proposals and dealt with a variety of eligibility rule, postseason tournament and operational issues.

After a yearlong conversation about emerging sports at MHSAA member schools, the Council approved a Volleyball Committee recommendation to begin sponsorship of boys volleyball with the 2025-26 school year. The Council also voted to begin sponsorship of girls field hockey beginning with 2025-26. Girls field hockey will be played during the Fall season, and boys volleyball during the Spring season, with the 2024-25 school year to serve as a development period as the MHSAA works with the current governing organizations for those sports. These will be the first sports added to the MHSAA’s tournament offerings since girls and boys lacrosse joined the lineup during the 2004-05 school year.

Changes to the MHSAA Winter Calendar will take effect in 2025-26 and include several adjustments to Finals schedules and practice starts that overall will lead to the winter sports season ending one week earlier – reflecting a fall survey that showed nearly 80 percent of MHSAA member schools felt the winter should be shortened. The reshaped winter sports calendar also completes competition before schools begin their spring breaks – which are being scheduled earlier than in the past – and places championships on dates that avoid potential facility conflicts.

Beginning with 2025-26, the last weekend in February will include the Team Wrestling, Bowling and Competitive Cheer Finals (with Skiing Finals remaining on the Monday of that week). The first weekend in March will include the Individual Wrestling, Boys Ice Hockey and Girls Gymnastics Finals. The Boys Basketball Finals will move to the second weekend of March with the Lower Peninsula Boys Swimming & Diving Finals, and the Girls Basketball Finals will permanently conclude the winter season during the third weekend of March. The Upper Peninsula Girls & Boys Swimming & Diving Finals will remain in mid-February. With basketball seasons ending earlier, basketball practices will be able to begin five days earlier (on a Wednesday) to keep tryouts/first practice dates from falling during Thanksgiving week.

More changes to MHSAA Tournament competition will begin in 2024-25. The Council voted to add a team championship for girls wrestling to be awarded to the school with the most success in the girls bracket of the Individual Finals. A girls individual bracket was added for the 2021-22 season, and the team championship will be awarded based on individual finishes similarly to how boys team championships were awarded before the dual format Finals were created with the 1987-88 season. Also for 2024-25, the Council approved Basketball and Soccer Committee recommendations to seed the entire District tournaments in those sports using Michigan Power Ratings (MPR) data, which previously was used to seed only the top two teams in each bracket for girls and boys basketball and girls and boys soccer.

The Council also approved a classification change in football intended to protect the state’s smallest schools sponsoring the 11-player format. Continuing a conversation from its Winter Meeting in March, the Council approved a Football Committee recommendation to cap the enrollment of Division 8 schools at 250 students, and then divide the rest of the 11-player schools evenly to determine the enrollment lines for the other seven divisions. As more small schools have switched to 8-player, larger schools have shifted into Division 8 for 11-player – and this change guarantees Division 8 schools will play only similarly-small schools during the postseason, taking effect with the 2025-26 school year.

To continue supporting schools providing teams at multiple levels despite low participation, the Council voted to allow athletes in two more sports to compete on teams at two levels on the same day. The Council approved a Bowling Committee recommendation allowing bowlers to participate in subvarsity and varsity competition on the same day, provided the events are separate – bowlers may still be listed on only one match roster and bowl for one team during each event – and also approved a Girls Lacrosse Committee recommendation to allow athletes to play in no more than five quarters in one day, with overtime an extension of the fourth quarter. At multi-team girls lacrosse tournaments where both school teams are playing, an athlete would be allowed to play in as many halves or quarters as what the school’s highest team level that day is playing.

The Council bolstered the penalty for inappropriate behavior toward game officials, approving an Officials Review Committee recommendation modifying the penalty for any coach or athlete who is ejected for spitting at, hitting, slapping, kicking, pushing or intentionally and/or aggressively physically contacting a game official at any time during that competition or after being ejected. The offending coach or athlete shall be suspended from competition for the next 14 calendar days and must complete an online sportsmanship course. The offending coach also will not be eligible to coach in the MHSAA Tournament for that sport during that season, nor be allowed to be present at the site or within sight, sound or communication of a tournament event for that team.

Here is a summary of other notable actions taken by the Representative Council at the Spring Meeting, which will take effect during the 2024-25 school year unless noted:


• The Council approved a change to the athletic-related transfer (link) rule stating that an athlete is ineligible in all sports participated in during the current or previous school year if that student has transferred to a school where a coach is employed who previously was a school employee or third-party contractor at the athlete’s former school. This change of language bolsters the regulation to include links to a coach at the new school who previously was employed in any way by the previous school.

• The Council approved a change to the football practice and competition rule to state that a school may not take part in an interscholastic scrimmage with another school until the Wednesday of the second week of practice and only if the team has conducted football practice on at least seven separate previous days. A joint practice with another school is considered a scrimmage and may not take place until those seven days of practice have been completed.  

Sports Medicine

• The Council approved a Sports Medicine Advisory Committee recommendation to require high schools to attest by each season’s established deadline that their high school sports coaches have emergency action plans specific to location which are posted, dispersed, rehearsed, discussed and documented within their practice plans.

• The Council also approved a Committee recommendation requiring MHSAA Tournament host sites to have an AED (automated external defibrillator) within visible distance of the event.


• The Council approved an Officials Review Committee recommendation requiring a set minimum number of officials required to work an event, designated by sport and level (varsity or subvarsity).

Sport Matters

BASEBALL: The Council approved a Baseball Committee recommendation requiring varsity teams to submit their pitch count information electronically by noon the day following every game(s).

BOWLING: The Council approved a Bowling Committee recommendation allowing for Regionals – Team and Singles – to be competed on consecutive days between Wednesday and Saturday of that week to increase the possibility of more bowling centers being able to host. Previously Regionals could be bowled only on Fridays and Saturdays.

COMPETITIVE CHEER: The Council approved three Competitive Cheer Committee recommendations related to stunting while also prioritizing safety. In a braced suspended forward roll pyramid, the flyer and at least one bracer will be required to have a hand-to-hand/arm connection, with one or both hands/arms of the bracer connected to one hand/arm/foot of the flyer, and with this maneuver performed only to a cradle position or in a forward suspended role without twists.

Another change will allow a backward suspended roll when it originates from the cheering surface as long as both hands of the flyer maintain continuous hand-to-hand or hand-to-arm contact with the original bases or back spot.

A third change allows during an inversion the temporary loss of contact with the flyer while transitioning to a double-based sponge with both feet of the flyer in the hands of the bases, or to a cradle or shoulder-level or below stunt.

GOLF: The Council approved a Golf Committee recommendation to form a Golf Site Selection Committee to review Regional tournament groupings and determine host schools and courses.

SOCCER: The Council approved another Soccer Committee proposal to institute a running clock during the first half of matches when the goal differential is eight or more.

SWIMMING & DIVING: The Council approved a Swimming & Diving Committee recommendation requiring all times entered for MHSAA Finals for both individual and relay swim events to be the times that are the fastest achieved in varsity competition during the current season and electronically verifiable on

TENNIS: The Council approved a Tennis Committee recommendation requiring the MHSAA to reduce the number of Regional tournaments for a season from eight to six if the number of teams participating that season is fewer than 288.

TRACK & FIELD: The Council approved a Cross Country/Track & Field Committee recommendation allowing for athletes to qualify for MHSAA Finals by reaching predetermined standards during a window beginning April 1 of that season and extending until that athlete’s Regional meet.

WRESTLING: The Council approved a Wrestling Committee recommendation to amend the penalty for a team when a wrestler competes at an ineligible weight class during a dual event. If the ineligible wrestler is discovered during the involved match, that wrestler forfeits that match and the opposing team will be awarded six team points, plus the head coach of the team with the ineligible wrestler will be assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty resulting in a one-point team score deduction. If the ineligible wrestler is discovered after the involved match, any points earned by the offending wrestler are removed from the team score, along with the point for unsportsmanlike conduct, and six points are added to the offended team’s total. In both instances, neither wrestler involved in the match in question may compete again in that dual. If the ineligible wrestler is discovered after the dual is completed, the teams have left the mat area and the scorebook has been signed by the official, the results and team score will stand.

The Council also reviewed reports on membership, with 754 senior high schools and 774 junior high/middle schools in 2023-24 plus 60 elementary schools with 6th-grader participation; cooperative programs, with 392 high school programs for 720 teams during 2023-24; eligibility advancement applications, which totaled one; the use of Educational Transfer Forms, of which there were 128; school violations, attendance at athletic director in-service workshops and Coaches Advancement Program sessions; officials’ registrations (which were up 4.8 percent from 2022-23), rules meetings attendance, and officials reports submitted for the past three sports seasons. The Association’s $14.8 million budget for the 2024-25 school year also was approved.

The Representative Council is the 19-member legislative body of the MHSAA. All but five 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.