The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) recently sponsored a public service announcement (PSA) contest. The WIAA oversees all high school athletics in the state of Wisconsin, but it's not well known and, when it is known, it isn't always respected.The problem for any oversight organization is that it can't please all of the people all of the time. The WIAA is charged with making determinations on athlete eligibility, transfers, recruiting violations, and other not so pleasant tasks. Their decisions can have far-reaching implications for student athletes who seek college opportunities and high schools which are looking for a state championship. So it's not surprising that they enlisted the creative efforts of their clientele to design a PSA promoting a more positive image of the association.
The contest rules were fairly simple with most of them covering format and eligibility. The overriding factor was that "The video public service announcementâ€ˆmust convey the importance of education and athletics, sportsmanship and the role of the WIAA in the high school sports experience. The best videos will be selected based on their creativity, originality of content and ability to inspire." Those last three words speak volumes. In polishing up its image the WIAA wants to be seen much like the NCAA has advertised in the last two years as the organization that shapes and builds future adults. Forget about sanctions, forget about expulsions, forget about returning trophies, forget about policing the sports, and definitely forget about enforcing rules on eligibility, violations, and conduct. We want to be the organization which inspires!
Certainly youth sports couldn't exist without clear boundaries, expectations, and arbitration. Because sports embody competition, that competition can extend off the field to disputes concerning perceived unfair practices from bad referee calls to stealing players. So I am grateful to have oversight associations to regulate and arbitrate. Without their supervision, infractions would skyrocket and increase in severity. And as players grow older the boundaries, expectations, and arbitration grow ever murkier, cut-throat, and significant. The older the player, the more the sport takes on a gravity with far-reaching consequences. So any decision, much like a referee's calls, makes enemies of one side and momentary comrades of the other. No wonder they want a new cloak that hides all their warts. They don't want to be Ferris Bueller's vice principal; they want to be Robin Williams in "Dead Poets' Society."
The contest yielded two co-winners with different approaches. The first from Luther High School in Onalaska used stirring music, flames, and dissolves from high school athletes to their adult counterparts to send the following message in banners over the images: Fueling future athletes, fueling future competition, fueling future battles, fueling future leadership, the WIAA fueling the future. The second from Wauwatosa West High School in Wauwatosa focused on a tennis match with the natural sounds of the match as a backdrop to its message in banners: A game need not be won, an opponent need not be crushed, ethics do not need to be compromised to learn and grow while enjoying a sport – It's the journey. I'm including the link here so you can see these winning videos http://www.wiaawi.org/index.php?id=504
. They did inspire. High school athletes and their parents watching these videos should be inspired to stretch further and dream higher. But I'm not sure that's the result or the function of the WIAA.
I'd actually like to see someone tackle the job of selling the duties the WIAA or other governing associations that are charged with fulfilling as a worthwhile and honorable role in youth sports. Putting a wolf in sheep's clothing doesn't make the wolf a sheep, but selling the wolf as majestic and important in the ecosystem lets people admire the wolf even as they fear him. Don't get me started on changes that governing committees need to make to the rules. There are too many rules in most sports' organizations and many of these rules are contradictory or punitive. But we need these associations just like our kids need parents – we need them to set the boundaries and the rules. And like parents, these groups aren't infallible but they do have the best interest of the sport, the players, and the competition in mind. They exist to be sure that the sport can exist civilly and fairly. They exist to create the brackets, to oversee the officiating, to arbitrate disputes and violations, and to monitor changes in the sport in order to incorporate them into the organization. That's a worthy profession. Leave the inspiration to the parents, coaches, and professional sports heroes. I'm happy to have the WIAA create a safe, level, and controlled playing field.