Minding Our Business: Focus on Mental Health

December 30, 2019

By Mark Uyl
MHSAA Executive Director

For as long as I can remember, rules have played an important role in my life. 

My father officiated high school and youth sports. So my brother and I did the same, and were fortunate enough to earn the right to work contests at the collegiate level. Today, my sons are officiating high school and youth sports.

I was hired by the MHSAA as an assistant director in large part due to my officiating background. Rules and regulations remain the backbone of athletics specifically, and society in general, as I learned more acutely when I entered the working world as a teacher and coach, then school administrator.

What also became abundantly clear to me within that framework was that it is our responsibility to provide our students not only the opportunity for competition, but also for our games and practices to take place under the safest conditions possible. From preseason physicals to equipment inventory and facility maintenance, a premium was placed on the well-being of participants and spectators.

Throughout my time at the MHSAA, various initiatives continued to target the growing list of health and safety concerns. My predecessor, Jack Roberts, often pointed to the “4 Hs” of the MHSAA’s health and safety campaign: Health Histories (Physicals), Heat and Hydration, Heads, and Hearts. Those pillars still hold the bulk of the content and resources on the Health & Safety resource pages of A few years ago, an extensive section promoting multi-sport participation was developed as an increasing amount of overuse injuries among single-sport athletes was being reported.

This fall, another section has been added as a sub-category to “Heads.” While attending an NCAA meeting in the summer of 2017, the topic of concussions came up, which I assumed to be the No. 1 issue concerning health and safety of student-athletes. It was quickly pointed out that student mental health – not concussions – had become the top health concern among our young people. That knocked me back.

Medical personnel have determined that depression, anxiety and other issues related to mental health are the No. 1 concern among adolescent-age children. There’s a real opportunity to provide some leadership and guidance in this area.

We need to offer resources on the subject, and also be prepared to provide guidance for our membership. The MHSAA has developed a Mental Health Speakers Bureau (please visit our Health & Safety page online). The first statewide Student Mental Health Summit scheduled for Lansing in October provided an opportunity for school principals, counselors, student leadership advisers and student leaders to convene on the topic.

The gathering was quickly sold out, indicating not only the growing nature of concern for this issue, but once again displaying the willingness of our educational leaders to recognize and react to another challenge. 

This week, Second Half will publish the latest benchmarks report on the MHSAA’s mental health initiatives and those being undertaken by other states as well.