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 Adjusts, Expands Out-of-State Competition Opportunities at Spring Meeting

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

May 12, 2023

Substantial changes to the rules governing out-of-state competition by Michigan High School Athletic Association member schools were among the most notable actions taken by the MHSAA’s Representative Council during its annual Spring Meeting, May 6-7 in Gaylord.

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 31 committee proposals and dealt with a variety of eligibility rule, postseason tournament and operational issues.

The most far-reaching changes approved by the Council shifts the MHSAA rules regarding competitions against out-of-state opponents. Moving forward, MHSAA member schools may continue to compete against teams from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ontario – but also may compete against teams from elsewhere in the United States as long as those competitions take place in Michigan, one of those five contiguous states or Ontario. The Council voted to remove the allowance for MHSAA member schools to travel up to 300 miles to play an out-of-state opponent; MHSAA member schools still can compete against those opponents, but competition must take place in Michigan or one of the states/province listed above. Any event including schools from outside of Michigan or those contiguous states/province must receive approval by the MHSAA and each state high school association with a team involved in order for MHSAA member schools to be allowed to participate.

In an effort to strengthen the undue influence regulation, the Council approved a change making it a violation for coaches or their representatives to connect via social media with students from another high school or with a student prior to ninth grade who has not yet enrolled in a high school or participated in an athletic practice or competition as a high school student. Violations of this rule include connecting via social media with a “follow,” “friend request” or “direct message” to a student. The Council also expanded the portion of the undue influence regulation that doesn’t allow coaches and representatives to visit prospective athletes and their families at the families’ homes to not allow them to visit athletes and families at “other locations” as well.

The Council approved an expansion in the use of video to determine penalties when there is a bench-clearing situation or other incident where team members enter the area of competition during an altercation. MHSAA staff, based on video evidence, will be allowed to assess additional penalties including ejections and suspensions to team members, coaches and other staff who enter those areas to participate or engage in such an altercation.

Concerning specific sports, changes to three stand out from several adopted by the Council.

The Council approved three Bowling Committee recommendations affecting postseason competition in that sport. The first reorganizes Regional competition to eight sites, with each qualifying the top two teams and top seven singles for both girls and boys competitions to the Finals (instead of the previous six sites qualifying three teams and 10 singles for both girls and boys). The Council also approved a proposal to change the Team Finals match play to a head-to-head, best-of-five Baker game format. Finally, the Council approved a proposal to adopt the Phantom II oil pattern for all MHSAA Tournament competitions.

In girls volleyball, the Council approved a Volleyball Committee recommendation to begin seeding the top two teams in each District beginning with the 2024-25 school year. As is done currently with girls and boys basketball and girls and boys soccer, the top-two seeded teams in each District will be placed on opposite sides of the bracket, guaranteeing they will not play each other before the District Final. Seeding will be determined using the Michigan Power Rating (MPR) formula which takes into account regular-season success and strength of schedule. MPR is used to seed Districts in the same way in basketball and soccer.

In wrestling, the Council approved a Wrestling Committee recommendation adding two regular-season dual meets to the allowed number of wrestling contest dates. These must be dual meets and may not be converted into three-team (tri) or four-team (quad) meets. Teams and individuals now will be allowed 16 days of competition with no more than eight of those days allowed for tournament-type events where a wrestler competes more than twice.

Here is a summary of other notable actions taken by the Representative Council at the Spring Meeting, which will take effect during the 2023-24 school year unless noted:


• The Council approved a classification-related change for the MHSAA’s smallest member schools, allowing them to request participation of eighth and seventh-grade students, based on the high school’s enrollment. Schools with fewer than 125 students (instead of the previous 100) may request an MHSAA Executive Committee waiver to use eighth-grade students in all sports except football, ice hockey and wrestling. Schools with fewer than 75 students (instead of the previous 50) may make the same request to use seventh and eighth-grade students in all sports except those three. Schools requesting a waiver must show cause and rationale for those students’ participation.

Sports Medicine

• The Council approved a Sports Medicine Advisory Committee proposal requiring middle school head coaches to have valid, current CPR certification. Similar to the high school requirements for head coaches at all levels, this addition at the middle school level will ensure each team has at least one coach at each level present who is CPR-certified. This requirement will take effect with the 2024-25 school year, and schools will attest to its completion by the established deadline for each season.


• The Council approved an Officials Review Committee recommendation adjusting the minimum requirements for postseason consideration in wrestling, competitive cheer and soccer. In wrestling, officials must receive 75 coaches ratings (instead of the previous 100) to be considered for working a postseason meet. In girls competitive cheer, judges must be members in good standing of a Local Approved Association. In soccer, officials must work a minimum of five regular-season games (down from the previous 10) to be considered for the postseason.

• The Council also approved a Committee recommendation increasing the amount paid when an official arrives on site prior to a competition before receiving notice that competition has been canceled due to an “act of God” including weather that results in unplayable conditions. In these situations, officials will receive one-half of the contract fee (instead of the previous one-third).

Sport Matters

• For baseball, the Council approved a change to when trophies will be awarded to Regional champions. Those trophies will be presented to both Regional champions after the Quarterfinal is concluded, as Regional Finals and the ensuing Quarterfinal are played at the same site on the same day and both Quarterfinal participants will have earned a Regional championship earlier that day.

• In addition to the Regional and Finals changes for bowling explained above, the Council also approved a Bowling Committee proposal seeking common start dates for practice and competition for Lower and Upper Peninsula teams. For the 2023-24 season, bowling teams in both peninsulas will begin practice Nov. 9 and competition Nov. 25. Previously, Upper Peninsula teams were allowed to begin their seasons slightly earlier – this past season four days sooner for practice and a week earlier for competition than their Lower Peninsula counterparts.

• The Council also approved a start date change in girls competitive cheer, proposed by the Competitive Cheer Committee, moving the practice start date to the second Monday before Thanksgiving. This shortens the season by one week, but also allows a more comfortable gap between the fall sideline cheer and winter competitive cheer seasons. This change will take effect with the 2024-25 school year.

• Also in cheer, the Council approved a Committee recommendation that adjusts the restricted period at the end of competitive cheer season to the Monday following Memorial Day, which will allow athletes to try out for sideline cheerleading for the upcoming season after the completion of the majority of spring-sport competitions.

• Additionally, the Council approved an exception to the MHSAA’s all-star regulation that will allow for individual competitive cheer and sideline cheer athletes to participate in an event that is “all-star” in name only as long as the selection components of the event comply with MHSAA regulations.

• In cross country and track & field, the Council approved Cross Country/Track & Field Committee recommendations to eliminate a pair of uniform-related rules adaptations designating the types of head attire that previously could be worn during cross country races and body adornments that previously were allowed to be worn during competitions in both sports.

• In golf, the Council approved a Golf Committee recommendation to require athletes to participate in at least four competitions for the high school team prior to representing that athlete’s school team in an MHSAA postseason golf competition. Those four regular-season competitions may be 9 or 18-hold events.

• A Council action in gymnastics will better define how athletes are assigned a division for the individual portion of the MHSAA Finals. Athletes are assigned either Division 1 or Division 2 based on past experience and skill level – Division 1 for those with the most – and the Council approved the allowance of the Xcel levels of Sapphire and Diamond to be part of the determining criteria. Athletes who have previously competed in a non-school event at either of these levels would be required to compete in the Division 1 level for MHSAA postseason competition.

• In tennis, the Council approved a Tennis Committee recommendation allowing in the Lower Peninsula for a No. 1 doubles pair from a non-qualifying team to advance from Regional to Finals competition if that pair finishes first or second at the Regional and the No. 1 singles player from that team also has qualified for the Finals individually by finishing first or second in Regional play. (Upper Peninsula tennis does not play a Regional.)

• The Council approved a Swimming & Diving Committee recommendation restructuring how qualifying times for Finals are determined in an effort to provide more entries in swimming events at the championship level. Moving forward, qualifying times will be determined based on the past five years of MHSAA race data, but also will account for past numbers of qualifiers in each swim race; qualifying times will be shifted to allow for more athletes to advance to the Finals in events where fields have not been full over the previous five seasons.

• The second swimming & diving recommendation approved by the Council assigned specific breaks during Finals competitions. During Friday preliminaries (swam in the Lower Peninsula only), 10-minute breaks will be placed between the 200-yard medley relay and 200 freestyle races, and between the 200 freestyle relay and 100 backstroke, with a 15-minute break between the 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly. The same 10-minute breaks will be mandated for Saturday Finals competitions, with a 15-minute break during Finals coming between the conclusion of diving and 100 butterfly races.

• For girls volleyball, the Council also approved a Volleyball Committee recommendation to permit the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association (MIVCA) a 3-minute on-court presentation during the MHSAA Finals to recognize that season’s Miss Volleyball Award winner. The presentation will take place between the second and third sets of the Division 1 championship match.

Junior High/Middle School

• The Council voted to make permanent cross country and track & field competitions that have been conducted at a Regional level as part of a pilot program during the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years. The Council also voted to expand the number of sites per Junior High/Middle School Regional to allow for large-school (Divisions 1 and 2) and small-school (Divisions 3 and 4) meets for each of the eight Zones. Each participating junior high and middle school will be classified for its Regional meet based on the enrollment of the high school with which the junior high/middle school is connected.

The Council also reviewed reports on membership, with 750 senior high schools and 767 junior high/middle schools in 2022-22 plus 63 elementary schools with 6th-grader participation; cooperative programs, with 376 high school programs for 692 teams during 2023-23; eligibility advancement applications, which totaled three; the use of Educational Transfer Forms, of which there were 127; school violations, attendance at athletic director in-service workshops and Coaches Advancement Program sessions; officials’ registrations, rules meetings attendance and officials reports submitted for the past three sports seasons. The Association’s $13.3 million budget for the 2023-24 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 1.3 million spectators each year.