In Play with Tom Markowski


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The pros and cons of sponsoring high school all-star games

By: Jonathon Kidd, July 11, 2016, 3:29 pm



Last week the 35th annual All-Star Baseball Game was held at Comerica Park and by all accounts the game was a success, and the stability of the game is reportedly sound.

One must wonder about the direction, and stability, of the All-Star Football Game and its sponsor will take in the future.

And you remember the boys and girls basketball all-star games, don’t you, the ones sponsored by the Basketball Coach Association of Michigan? Those games are no longer played and the lingering question is, does anyone miss them? I know your answer and I agree.

The concept of an all-star game has its merits. An organization does its work to gather the best players in a particular sport and have them compete on the same day on the same playing field or court.

The problem is that it doesn’t always work. Does anyone watch the NFL Pro Bowl and if they do watch it will they admit it? The NBA and the NHL all-star games are not much more than a scoring-fest.

The only one that attracts a wide audience is the Major League Baseball All-Star Game and let’s not attribute this fact to Fox. Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth and the rest of baseball’s greats made it so.

Back to the high school all-star games and it’s baseball that works best.

Here are a few reasons why. The game is played shortly after the conclusion of the state finals and is played during the summer, baseball’s season. The game has been played at the home of the Detroit Tigers, Tiger Stadium and then Comerica Park. This fact weighs heavily on the game’s success. It’s a thrill and an honor for a graduating senior to play his final game at the home of a major league team. The risk of injury is small and the amount of time a participant must devote to playing in the game is also minimal.

The defunct basketball games and the current football all-star game are hurt by the timing. BCAM held its games during the summer, three months after the season ended. Never mind the WNBA, nobody likes watching basketball in June, the NBA Finals being a noteworthy exception, or July (Olympic Games are held in August).

And in football it’s worse. The season ends in November and with the game scheduled, annually, during the summer many graduating seniors have commitments to the school they will attend in the fall.

The few reporters (I believe three were there) who covered the 34th football all-star game on June 25 all agreed that the current format presents a challenge for those who are able to pull off this game.

People like coach John Herrington at Farmington Hills Harrison and Clawson coach Jim Sparks, the all-star committee chairperson, should be commended for their efforts in promoting the game and giving their time to make the game as successful as possible.

Any non-profit organization, like the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association, exists for a reason, a purpose. And the purpose, in this instance, is to promote high school football and to provide an experience for the 80 seniors and 16 coaches who participate.

The challenge has become increasingly more difficult over the years. When the game was held in East Lansing at Spartan Stadium promoters like the UAW were more easily convinced to support the game. Oldsmobiles are no longer built in the Lansing area and the National Collegiate Athletic Association banned all high school football all-star games from being played on the campus of a Division I school.

The result is the MHSFCA has lost valuable sponsors throughout the years and one of the reasons, according to Sparks, is that some sponsors are unwilling to promote an event that is held at Saginaw Valley State University, for example, the site of this year’s game.

“It’s like a catch 22,” Sparks said. “We’re not drawing the top Division I players because they have to report so early and the NCAA doesn’t allow us to play the game at a Division I campus. We need those top players to get those sponsors.”

Sparks said he’s still awaiting the numbers but his association will likely lose money on the game this year. The game drew about 600 in temperatures that wavered between 84 and 86 degrees. Other than family members and close friends there isn’t much of a draw for your average football fan.

Now if the MHSFCA could sponsor an all-star game for the top juniors who will be seniors that would be an attraction. Not sure that would meet the approval of the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

“Every year, just before the game, I ask myself if it’s worth it,” Sparks said. “Then on game day I’m convinced we should have it.”

It is a tremendous experience for the players, both in baseball and football. Those interviewed did not talk of the game but spoke of the friendships that were created in the days preceding it.

But it does pose a monetary burden when an organization must house and feed 96 people for four days and nights.