June 4, 2024 •

Q&A.D. with MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl

Mark Uyl has been the Michigan High School Association (MHSAA) executive director since 2018. Previously, Uyl served in the assistant director role for 14 years.

Uyl joined the MHSAA staff in January 2004 and coordinated the Association’s nearly 10,000 officials in addition to serving as director of baseball and administrator of the MHSAA’s catastrophic and concussion care insurance plans from 2004 to 2018. He also has served as director of cross country and wrestling during his tenure as assistant director.

Mark Uyl, MHSAA Executive Director

As assistant director, Uyl was instrumental as the MHSAA became the first state high school athletics association to offer concussion care insurance, which provides gap coverage to assist in covering costs for athletes who are injured while participating in MHSAA-sponsored sports. As an official himself, Uyl has worked to build a stronger relationship with those working high school events which has included an increase in training and support. As a sports director, Uyl has sought to create the best experiences for Michigan high school teams, including with the move of the MHSAA Baseball and Softball Finals to Michigan State University in 2014.

Uyl spoke with Coach & Athletic Director about his career and the current state of the MHSAA.

Coach & A.D.: What are you most proud of achieving in the time you’ve been at the helm of the MHSAA?

Mark Uyl: Figuring out a way to navigate the world of school sports during COVID. The challenges the pandemic created were unprecedented, and we were able to work effectively with our member schools to figure out a way to not only play but to play safely. What became clear during April, May, and June of 2020 was our kids desperately needed activity and connection to teammates and coaches, and the MHSAA had to meet those needs while navigating the challenges presented by the virus, politics, and directives from governmental agencies.

The MHSAA was able to complete every sports season safely during the 2020-21 school year, which, looking back, was an extraordinary accomplishment and one that our entire staff took great pride in.

CAD: How has your experience as a college baseball official, including serving on the NASO Board of Directors among other committees, influenced your role as MHSAA executive director?

mhsaaUyl: My officiating background has taught me the importance of having thick skin, making decisions based on the facts in front of you, and not being swayed by outside influences, pressures, or agendas. The pressure of making decisions as the MHSAA director, with outside voices and opinions on both sides of an issue, is one that I’ve done for nearly 30 years, much like calling a pitch a ball or a strike with individuals in both dugouts seeing the same set of facts much differently. It has also been helpful knowing that decision-makers will never keep everyone happy, and the quicker a leader comes to that conclusion, the better off and more effective that leader will be.

CAD: Given that official background, what steps have you taken to help mitigate the ongoing referee shortage? While it’s certainly a national issue, has it affected you at the state level?

Uyl: Over the past 40 years, our registration data has shown that the ebb and flow of officials has been directly linked to economic conditions. In other words, when the economy was in good shape, official numbers were down. When the economy tended to struggle, our numbers were up as folks were looking for additional ways to pick up additional income. The pandemic completely blew up this dynamic with COVID-19 fast-forwarding the retirement of some officials and keeping others away because people were being paid, in many cases, to NOT work. The shortage has been felt in Michigan, and many schools and leagues have addressed this shortage by significantly increasing game fees for the first time in years. We are starting to see numbers increase due to the enhancement of game fees and compensation that officials are receiving.

CAD: Have you added any athletic offerings to Michigan student-athletes?

Uyl: We have not but are actively considering a handful of new and emerging sports. These include girls’ field hockey, water polo, boys’ volleyball, indoor track & field, and flag football. As we continue to receive feedback from our member schools, it is important to not only focus on these new options but also to take a long, hard look at how new sports could negatively impact our existing offerings. We have learned in this communication process that the decision is much more complicated and complex than simply deciding yes or no to a few new sports.

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CAD: What is on the horizon for the MHSAA?

Uyl: Just like athletic teams, I firmly believe organizations are either getting better or getting worse with “staying the same” being a near impossibility. In the quest for improvement, we are critically looking at the services and opportunities we currently offer through a lens of how can we do these things even better! With our existing sports, do we add an additional division or class? What would that do to the current experience of our schools? Do new sports help or hurt that experience? In our post-COVID world, the MHSAA is working hard to return to being a membership-driven organization rather than being directed by governmental agencies or state health departments. Our current course will create our roadmap for the next 5-10 years which makes for very exciting times for our schools and the association.