Supporting Sports Officials

February 20, 2015

There recently has been some criticism that the MHSAA hasn’t “had the backs” of sports officials regarding a proposal for a new state law.
To make a difference of opinion about legislative strategy the litmus test of MHSAA support for officials is misguided at best and manipulative at worst.
Moreover, from the standpoint of coaches and spectators, the MHSAA is much too ready to support officials, even when officials misapply a game rule or misjudge a contest situation. That we always back officials, even when they are wrong, is a criticism that resonates with the public far more than the recent, rare criticism that we don’t have officials’ backs on a piece of legislation that we believe lacks merit.
Despite the hype and hope, there are two things the proposed legislation will not do: 
First, additional legal sanctions will not dissuade someone who has momentarily lost his or her mind to pause and think, “Oh yeah, If I slug this person, there’s an extra penalty.” There is no evidence that such legislation works as a deterrent to emotional outbursts.
Second, putting such legislation on the books will not improve sportsmanship on the front lines. Such laws are empty words; improving sportsmanship is year-round, grassroots work of real substance.
Because our energies are invested in the ongoing work of improving sportsmanship in interscholastic athletics’ special niche in the world of sports, the MHSAA has been known nationwide for several decades as a high school association with great passion for good sportsmanship and innovative programs to improve sportsmanship.
This week alone we have thousands of students and others voluntarily watching videos promoting school spirit and good sportsmanship as the fourth annual “Battle of the Fans” concludes. This program, born in Michigan, is now spreading to our counterpart organizations across the U.S.
This week, and almost every week, we have staff traveling “anytime, anywhere” to deliver face-to-face education to groups of high school coaches who, more than anyone else, influence the behaviors of both players and spectators.
Through the years, we have promoted sportsmanship with audio and video and print promotions. We’ve conducted statewide, league and local sportsmanship summits as well as team captain and student leadership workshops. We have rewarded good sportsmanship, and penalized bad.
The MHSAA’s Constitution requires every member school to adopt a code of good sportsmanship for its athletes, coaches and spectators, an educational program to promote good sportsmanship, and a system of progressive discipline for failure to behave according to the code of good sportsmanship. A condition of MHSAA membership is to demonstrate that those requirements are being met.
Time and money spent on real solutions, not symbolism, is the MHSAA’s approach to creating and maintaining a higher level of sportsmanship. And it’s the best way for the MHSAA to demonstrate its ongoing support for contest officials.

From MSP Post to Postgame: Lieutenants Return to the (Football) Field

September 27, 2023

While fans are settling into another season, Michigan State Police Lt. Tedric Gibbs has been fully immersed in football for months.

The Jackson Post’s assistant post commander serves as assistant coach for Jackson High School’s varsity football team and for the team at Parkside Middle School.

“I started coaching when my older son was in youth sports, as a way to do something together that we both love,” Gibbs said. “My younger son followed the same path, so I joined his team too. I grew up in Jackson and am grateful to be able to serve my hometown from the sidelines and at our post.”

Lt. Mark Giannunzio officiates at the high school and college levels.Some 400 miles north, Lt. Mark Giannunzio is also a familiar face in and on the field. The MSP Negaunee Post assistant post commander and Eighth District public information officer enforces the rules of the game as a high school and college football official, the latter for the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

“I started at the high school level to stay involved in athletics and make authentic connections in the community,” Giannunzio said. “It’s rewarding to help teach the game and share knowledge of the rules. I currently have a full 11-game schedule in the GLIAC Division II college conference, with high school games interspersed during the year.”

The correlation among coaching, officiating and policing translates.

“With my fellow troopers, I want to inspire, motivate and encourage to get the most out of them,” Gibbs said. “I take the same approach with my players to figure out what they need from me, as their designated leader, to be as successful as they can. In both capacities, I do the work alongside them. We do it together.”

This approach is especially important when tough times surface. Lieutenant Gibbs’ high school team experienced tragedy right before its first game when a player died in a car crash.

“We focused on adversity,” said Gibbs, who was in a unique position to talk from a police perspective too. “It’s a benefit to have that insight and background and share it with what they can control – make good decisions and wear your seatbelt.”

Lieutenant Gibbs incorporates his coworkers when he can, like during spring conditioning when fellow troopers join him and his players, helping all involved to make new connections and build strong bonds between the students and officers.

Gibbs also coaches at Jackson Parkside Middle School.“One of the most important attributes in both careers is communication,” Giannunzio said. “Communication can make or break an official and a police officer. Much like selling a citation to a motorist, I need to be able to sell the penalty in a calm and professional manner. Demeanor and attitude go together on both the football field and when we are out patrolling in the Blue Goose.”

Treating everyone with dignity and respect is something Lieutenants Gibbs and Giannunzio commit to as members of a modern police agency and in their areas of expertise on the football field.

“Both roles afford so many opportunities to develop culture and cultivate teamwork,” Gibbs said. “The best part is watching others flourish and playing a part in their growth.”

PHOTOS (Top) Michigan State Police Lt. Tedric Gibbs, left, serves as an assistant football coach for the Jackson High varsity. (Middle) Lt. Mark Giannunzio officiates at the high school and college levels. (Below) Gibbs also coaches at Jackson Parkside Middle School. (Photos provided by the Michigan State Police.)