It’s late June in the great state of Michigan. Temperatures are in the 80s, humidity is low, and the nationwide advertising campaign known as “Pure Michigan” has never been more accurate. This is a perfect time of year for everyone who loves being outdoors. More specifically, it’s the perfect time of year for golfers to deepen their love for the greatest game on earth. We practice, we play, we yell at a little white ball to do things it isn’t capable of doing…all while paying for the privilege of being driven crazy by a game that evades perfection like my hairline evades a comb.
However, there is one glaring travesty in the golf universe that threatens the future of the game in our fine state. For reasons that make zero sense, this perfect summer is wasted on every member of Boy High School Golf teams across Michigan.
Why? Because their competitive season has been relegated to the springtime. Instead of honing their skills (and love for the game) in the summer and heading into the fall season with several weeks of practice, boys in this state are asked to hit balls into a net in the high school hallway and then begin competing for real in the snow, sleet, and frigid temperatures common to March, April, and May in the Midwest.
Sorry guys, we know you haven’t put a ball in flight outdoors since last fall, but college coaches are looking forward to seeing your scores…so go get ‘em!
With courses either covered by snow or flooded by the melting of the same, the entire scenario is a mess for everyone involved. When the weather finally does turn, every team in the state has to compete with spring leagues for practice time on the course and range. The imposition on the part of the host courses is huge and it’s getting more and more difficult to find quality venues willing to make that sacrifice.
But I’m getting way ahead of the story.
Let’s first tackle the glaring question every reader must be asking by now – how on earth did something so foolish take place? How did the boys end up playing in conditions that would make Rudolph and Yukon Cornelious decide to stay indoors?
For that answer, we head back to 1998 and one mother’s lawsuit targeting the governing body of sports in the state, the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA).
You can read about the case and the decision in several different place, all of them leading to the same conclusion – the lawsuit sought to right a perceived wrong, by adding another wrong. It seems like somewhere, at some time, someone wrote something about “two wrongs not making a right,” but Federal Judge Richard Enslen must have missed that day or Morality 101.
So, from that inane ruling by a now-deceased judge, boys who want to golf must now do so during the part of the year where they are occasionally still gifted with the glorious surprise of a snow day. It makes no sense.
It needs to change.
I am not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV. I am a father of a recent high school golfing graduate and an assistant coach for a team that is in no danger of needing to clear additional space in the school trophy case for a state title trophy. Like many other coaches and players in Michigan, I’ve bundled up in every article of clothing I own in an effort to walk the course during our matches. I’ve watched and cringed as kids with plenty of talent from our school and others have been competitively hindered from making a full swing because they’re bundled up like Ralphie’s little brother in “A Christmas Story.”
I also happen to host a statewide TV and Radio golf program that has kept me closely connected to the pulse of the game for nearly 20 years. As part of my program, I began asking coaches, players, athletic directors, and course operators for their opinions on the seasonal disparity that – ever since the lawsuit was decided – has the girls playing in the fall and the boys in the spring. My opinion sampling has included literally hundreds of people directly impacted and involved in the game, and thus far has resulted in a total of ONE dissenting voice.
Every other piece of input has followed along the lines of this response: “It’s crazy what they ask these kids to do and would be so easy to change it back to the fall.”
I’ll restrain myself from veering off into the political realm as I make the following observation: Why does it seem that today’s problems almost always present a very logical solution that is totally ignored by those we’ve chosen/appointed/elected to find those solutions?
In other words, if EVERYONE involved in boys high school golf agrees that a move back to the fall makes perfect sense, why hasn’t that move been made?
The answer to that conundrum can be summed up quite succinctly – a rogue, deceased judge said so.
Confused? You’re not alone. A few weeks ago, I had a guest on my radio show from the MHSAA. I had incorrectly assumed that they were opposed to the concept of a seasonal change. Turns out, they aren’t opposed…they simply aren’t allowed.
An overzealous plaintiff, aided by an overreaching court, has tied the hands of the state’s governing body when it comes to every single sport and the schedule by which it is played.
According to the MHSAA, the only route for making a change is to approach the original plaintiffs and ask for their permission!
You want ludicrous in 2016 America? There it is. The mother who started all of this with the lawsuit in 1998 has been granted what appears to be the ultimate trump card. Forever and ever, she is allowed to rule on what is fair for everyone.
On the off chance that the mom at the center of this issue, Diane Madsen, reads this plea for common sense, please let me lay out the case for granting permission to let boys compete in golf in the fall, instead of in the spring:
- Basic Fairness – The motivation behind the original was to correct a “disadvantage” that had girls playing volleyball at a time of year that was considered undesirable and unfair. How does now forcing boys to golf at a similar disadvantage help correct the previous inequity?
- Concurrent Seasons – The default assumption in reading this letter may be to think that I am proposing a flipping of seasons, resulting in the girls then playing in the spring. Nope. Both boys and girls would play in the fall after being able to practice all summer.Why would this work better than in the spring? Because host courses across the state have told me that their leagues conclude at Labor Day, thus freeing up the courses for afternoon practice sessions for boys and girls. With just a little creative scheduling, the boys would have course access one day, the girls the next. See? We CAN all just get along!
- Academic Consideration – Currently, most boys matches take place during the school day. Golfers miss incredible amounts of class time because they have to depart around Noon for a 2pm match. Why? The host courses have afternoon leagues that generate revenue. They need high school matches off the courses before leagues begin, so those matches have to start early.Students are asked to miss huge amounts of class time at a time of year when they can least afford to do so – the spring semester. Consider the case of a high school senior who has a barrage of final exams. Those exams cover material being presented in the very classes he is required to miss because of the crunch for course space. Adults give a great deal of lip service to the concept of the “student-athlete,” until it comes time for the adults to be inconvenienced. We pull kids out of school while still expecting them to maintain high academic standards. We burden them with (in the case of our “School of Excellence”) loads of extra work and no time to do it.During the final weeks of the school year, golfers have exams, graduations, districts, regionals, and state finals all piled on top of each other. Moving back to the fall would mean far fewer “early out” times, much less pressure on the academic side, and far less stress on the STUDENT-athlete.
- Growing the Game – It’s stunning to examine the logical implications of where the current schedule takes our game 15-20 years down the road. The golf industry is already reeling from decreased participation among young people. Course operators are immensely worried about the future of the game, given costs and the time it takes to play.One natural source for future golfers should be the high school programs across the state. And yet, we are now asking boys to fall in love with a game that requires them to hit balls into a net in the school hallway, putt on carpet in a classroom or library, maybe hit balls at a nearby dome (if it hasn’t blown down or gone bankrupt), and then head out to actual competition where their scores count for real – even though they won’t regain feeling in their fingertips until the van arrives back at school.Imagine the difference in enthusiasm and confidence between a player who was able to practice all summer and then head directly into the season vs the player who hasn’t touched a club in any meaningful way since September but is being expected to perform to his maximum potential.
This is a problem with a simple solution. It’s time for the MHSAA and high school golf programs across Michigan to join forces and take the actions needed to allow the boys’ and girls’ golf seasons to take place concurrently in the fall. All it takes is for a mother who was motivated by the concept of fairness to employ that same concept and give an enthusiastic thumbs up to the idea of boys and girls playing golf at the same time.
It doesn’t take a lawsuit, a team of expensive lawyers, or a talk show host who is weary of freezing his tail off at matches March to arrive at the answer. All it takes is an examination of the basic facts, and a healthy dose of common sense.
In other words, it takes common sense.
Is there any of that left in 2016 America? It’s time to find out.