I’m an idealist. That’s why I chose to work on this level of sports and not some other level; why I work in sports and not some other field. And I expect the same is true of many of you – you’re idealists, and prefer to work on or observe this level of sports over any other.
I’m more idealistic now than I’ve ever been, and that’s the best reason I have to keep doing this work. And I’m too idealistic – and frankly, too close to the end of my career – to simply be advancing ideas that are merely a rearranging of the seats on the Titanic.
But I know I’m somewhere in the final one-third of my tenure here. In the first third, we raised some expectations for our programs, and we still have more to do. In the second third, we raised some standards for our programs, and we still have more to do. And in this final third, we will raise awareness for our programs like never before. I hope and expect that we will raise expectations, standards and awareness to unprecedented levels in the months and years ahead, in spite of all of the clutter around us and all of the big challenges before us.
I believe we are evolving from an association that worked very hard to understand the needs and wants of its constituents to an association that is also working very hard to understand the world around us and how it has changed school sports, is changing school sports and may yet change school sports. MHSAA staff has been engaged in a comprehensive look at three particular issues:
- How has the growth of non-school youth sports programs affected school sports, and how will it affect the future of school sports?
- How has expansion of education options – school of choice, charter schools, magnet schools, non-traditional schools – affected school sports, and how will this affect the future of school sports?
- How have the proliferation of sports on television and changes in technology affected school sports, and how will these factors affect the future of school sports?
The questions we have been trying to answer in this effort are these: In the midst of all the perennial problems of school sports – for example, nationalism, commercialism, elitism, specialization and entertainment distractions – and facing serious new challenges – not the least of which are the seasons changes and a seriously sagging Michigan economy – how do we involve a higher number of students in a high-standards program?
How do we regain more of the almost 80 percent of young people who begin in organized sports but who drop out of organized sports before they ever walk into a high school as a 9th-grader? And at the other end of the spectrum, how do we retain more of the interest and loyalty of the more gifted student-athletes who, when they reach high school, have their minds as much on non-school club programs as their school programs?
Again, how do we maintain, if not increase, the relevance of school sports to students, and how do we maintain, if not increase, the usefulness of school sports to students in our mission of educating young people? If we ever stop trying to do this, if we ever lose this ideal, we should be reassigned or retired.