Sunday, September 30, 2007

Team captains get sportsmanship tips at conference

September 30, 2007

By Anthony Fenech
Free Press Special Writer

In sports today, sportsmanship is often blinded by big-money contracts, arguments with officials, hot-headed outbursts, and even confrontations with fans. Good sportsmanship is rarely applauded, the focus instead on touchdown dances and trash-talking.

Sometimes, that same poor sportsmanship seeps down into the high school level. The Michigan Independent Athletic Conference is doing their part to emphasize good sportsmanship at the high school level.

On Wednesday, September 19, the MIAC hosted a captain’s luncheon, hosted by Southfield Christian Academy. The luncheon, designed to educate captains of all 12 fall sports on various topics of sportsmanship, included a guest-speaking appearance by Jack Roberts, Executive Director of the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

”I hoped to encourage the captains to think again about their role as captains and equip them with the couple of ideas for their leadership. The idea of thinking positively, I wanted to give them things they could remember,” Roberts said.

Roberts touched on a number of issues and added a couple of personal anecdotes, including an interesting story about his two sons. One graduated from the University of Michigan, the other from Appalachian State University.

“I might be the only parent in the U.S. to claim that,” Roberts joked. “I preach good sportsmanship all the time. Right now I have some work to do at home.”

Roberts handed out questionnaires for each group of captains to fill out as a group. The questionnaire was eight questions long, asking questions such as the risks of being a team captain, the characteristics of good leaders, and ways to create team chemistry.

Libby Allen, a Southfield Christian senior who captains cross country, enjoyed the event. “It was good. We actually got to meet the people we run against and compete against, and so it’s kind of nice to see them outside of always competing, because you can’t really talk when you’re competing against each other.”

Noah Nelson, representing Oakland Christian’s soccer team, echoed Allen’s views on interacting with their fellow opponents. “I’ve grown up playing sports with a lot of these guys, just playing back and forth from 5th grade, so it’s kind of cool to sit down with them, hang out a little bit, talk to them,” Nelson said.

This was the first such event for the MIAC, and numerous coaches and athletic directors were present.

“I think the idea of us getting our kids together in a non-competitive environment where they can look at each other, not just as the opposing team, but as fellow soccer players, volleyball players. Many of our schools are Christian schools, so there is that tie as well. That’s good and it helps relationships between our schools and it builds a better camaraderie amongst the conference. It’s a great idea, a great event,” said Plymouth Christian Athletic Director Chris Johnson.

Johnson also assists with Plymouth Christian’s varsity boys’ soccer team, and believes the MIAC will continue with the captain’s luncheons in the winter and fall seasons.

“Anytime you can do something where you can get competitive people together in a non-competitive environment, where they can get to know each other, it’s a good thing,” said Johnson.

When asked what sportsmanship means to them, each captain and coach answered differently, but one explanation stood out.

“You’re gracious in defeat, and humble when you win.”

That quote came from Tim Koster, a senior Cross Country captain from the host school, whose answer seemed to collectively ring a bell with participants, visible with smiles and head-nods.

Dr. Phil Ackley, principal of Southfield Christian, said his school tries to preach that same line to their athletes.

“We try to say that over and over,” said Ackley, who offered his opinion on the favorite thing he saw from his athletes.

“Our students now see these rival schools as friends. They’re actually just like us. We’ve got all of the same interests and college decisions to make,” said Ackley.

According to Roberts, in 2007, the MHSAA has conducted 12 half-day captains clinics, with more than 2,000 captains participating. Afterwards, coaches and athletic directors have follow-up material to keep working with the participants.

“There’s a lot of this going on. This is really a centerpiece of our student-focused programming,” said Roberts.