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Turbulent times greet new MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl as high school athletics continue to evolve

By: Jeff Dullack, July 19, 2018, 2:46 pm

 

East Lansing – Incoming Michigan High School Athletic Association Executive Director Mark Uyl faces greater challenges than his predecessor, Jack Roberts, confronted when he became the fourth person to serve as executive director in the MHSAA’s 94-year history.

Roberts will officially step down next month.

It was an immensely different world in 1986 when Roberts took over as executive director. Digital cell phone use was still five years away. The invention of the smartphone would wait until the arrival of the new millennia. Texting was more than a decade away and twitter would wait until 2006 before it engulfed our world.

Social media is so much a part of our lives it’s difficult for the vast majority of high school students to imagine a world without it.

In athletics there were just four classifications in football, the idea of separating state tournaments into divisions, not classifications, was a decade away from seeing the light of day, and the Title IX debate had yet to infiltrate the deep consciousness of Michigan high school sports

The advent and proliferation of social media is just one aspect of the ever-changing world of high school athletics that awaits Uyl. In Uyl’s world, all of these changes are intertwined acting as if it were a chemical reaction.

An action produces a reaction. A tackle, a crossover dribble or a home run leads to a tweet. A goal, a spike leads to a post. A winning touchdown results in a YouTube video. A questionable referee’s call is followed by profanity from unruly fans.

Welcome to preps 2018. It’s as instantaneous as it gets.

This brave new world, one where heroes are produced in seconds, also deflates the core of high school sports and that’s commitment.

Team sports have become a platform for individual achievements. The quest for a college scholarship has become the main goal for many families. One can point to the rising costs of a college education as the motivation for parents to encourage their child to be successful in athletics and that’s understandable but how well a student performs in the classroom is more beneficial in the long run than whether he or she makes all-state.

Perhaps one can blame our society for athletic achievements to outweigh what is achieved in the classroom. Regardless, there’s a misperception. It is the wise child that can see through this and understand that athletics can be a good stepping stone to reach one’s personal achievements. To see athletics as being more important than academics is shortsighted. It goes back to that instant gratification syndrome.

So, what’s Uyl challenge? One is to keep success in athletics in perspective. The organization’s emphasis on the student-athlete through its scholar-athlete awards program, which will enter its 30th season in the fall, is commendable and helps to showcase success in the classroom by students who participate in sports, not necessarily those who excel in athletics.  

Participation and the encouragement for students to participate is a priority. The MHSAA recently issued a release that stated that participation for the sports that the MHSAA sponsors is at its highest level since the 2013-14 school year. That’s encouraging but those within the MHSAA should not be satisfied nor complacent. High school students have so many options now, many more than when Uyl was attending high school. And when a student selects a sport in which to participate much more is asked of this student as far as time commitment.

What is often lost in all of this is the difference between participating in athletics at the lower levels, like at the freshmen and the junior varsity level, as opposed to that at the varsity level. The seasons are long, too long in some estimations. Junior high athletes play six or seven games in football then play nine at the freshmen level. Some coaches say we’re losing athletes because of this sudden increase in games, and the time commitment it takes. Junior varsity basketball teams often play as many games during the regular season as do those on varsity. Perhaps a more gradual increase would be better.

Thinking outside the box, working hand in hand with associations like the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association and the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan to discuss possible changes that would improve athletics is in the best interest of Uyl and his association.

Uyl would also be advised to continue and enhance the programs introduced by Roberts. Safety concerns, including concussion protocol, and leadership conferences, are among initiatives Roberts strongly favored.   

Uyl will need strong support and forward-thinking advice from his staff to move the MHSAA forward.

Those looking for changes, particularly in tournament formats, might not see immediate results. Look for Uyl to tread softly in his first year before any changes are made.