RC: In the mid-1990s our state Legislature approved open enrollment where students and parents can choose where they’d like to go to school. There are positives to that, but there are also negatives when it comes to fair play and sports and competition. So what we’ve established is what is called first-entry. A student establishes first-entry by starting high school or by making a high school team as a ninth-grader, if ninth grade is not in the high school. After that, you are not allowed to switch to another high school and participate on its teams without a documented change of residence or an approved hardship appeal. We are losing a sense of community, especially in some of the urban schools. You’re seeing it in the size of the crowds. You’d think a team winning regularly would have the biggest crowds, but that isn’t always the case. If you have a really good team but the players come from 10 different communities, how do you attract one central community feeling?
DN: So the idea is to maintain that sense of team?
RC: That’s where we hope high school sports and activities are different than any other level. Ideally, you’re not just competing, but you’re learning the value of hard work, integrity, dedication, the chemistry of the team. It should not be all about winning. In life that’s not reality. I always told my teams when I was coaching that one of the saddest things would be to go undefeated. I wouldn’t tell them that until after they lost a game, but the truth is you can learn so much from a loss. Many would argue we learn more from a loss than a win. Not that you want to lose consistently, but life’s going to throw curveballs just like sports is going to present challenges. If our student-athletes come out as better people, better citizens, better able to face and endure life’s challenges, that’s what high school sports and activities are supposed to do. We feel that sportsmanship and citizenship are developed through positive learning laboratories where practical life lessons are taught. We feel that those students who participate in UHSAA activities get set for life through education-based activities.
DN: And your role is to provide the best environment to make that happen?
RC: We want to help make participation a positive experience for the more than 88,000 students who participate in the 10 girls and 10 boys sports we sanction as well as music, drama and debate. We want our coaches and advisers to promote the development of character and ensure the teaching of positive values, philosophies and principles of educational value that will last a lifetime. That’s the reason we exist. This association was first formed back in 1927 because the high schools wanted a nonbiased group to oversee things so the principal of a school wasn’t running the basketball tournament that his school also happened to be in. We are a nonprofit organization. We do not receive any legislative money. Eighty percent of our revenue comes from postseason ticket sales, 15 percent from corporate sponsorships and less than 5 percent from member dues and fees from the schools. We’re here to help and serve. As I said, relationships are the most important things. We want people to talk to a live voice when they call our office. We don’t want people to reach an answer machine. We are a service organization committed to assisting those who oversee sports and activities in our 136 member high schools.
DN: Thank you again. Any closing thoughts?
RC: I think it’s good to point out that our paramount goal is to be a very fair and accountable organization to our member schools. Oftentimes, we get portrayed as trying to make life miserable for all because of the difficult decisions that have to be made and that attract such a large share of public and media attention. Great UHSAA programs like our “raise the bar” sportsmanship initiative, student leadership conference, unified sports partnership with Special Olympics Utah, annual administrators, coaches and referees training clinics, and the academic all-state teams we honor too often get forgotten in the rhetoric.
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. Email: email@example.com