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A memorial service for former Executive Director John Roberts, who died Dec. 16, will be held at St. Paul's Methodist Church in Stevens Point Saturday, Jan. 12. Visitation will be at 10 a.m. with the service to follow at 11 a.m.. 

Roberts, 92, served 29 years as the Executive Director, beginning his term on Jan. 1, 1957 and retiring on Dec. 31, 1985. He was the third executive director of the Association, succeeding Clifford Fagan.

Among the many advancements of the Association under his leadership were the ushering in of girls sports in 1971. The popularity of girls sports grew dramatically during his tenure, starting with three sports and 325 school teams when it started to 10 sports and 2,300 girls teams when he retired. Earlier in his role as Executive Director, he led the growth in boys teams for the sports. In particular, participation in the sports of wrestling, track and field, cross country, swimming and golf grew significantly.

Other significant advancements in the Association under his direction was the proliferation of classes in tournament play, most notably basketball in 1972, as well as the introduction of the cooperative teams program in 1982. Upon his retirement, he stated “No person has enjoyed his occupation more than I have.” 

Born in Adair, Iowa, on April 20, 1920, he graduated from Valley High School in West Des Moines. Roberts was an all-state football selection in 1937 and a State Wrestling Champion in 1937 and 1938.

He played football and wrestled at UW-Madison. He played football for three years and was the Big Ten wrestling champion in 1941-42. He was NCAA runner-up in 1941. Before receiving his bachelor and master degrees, he served as a pilot with the rank of lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II (1943-45). 

Roberts served as athletics director and coach at P.J. Jacobs High School (now SPASH) from 1946-52 and led the football team to a 23-1 record in his final three seasons, including undefeated seasons in 1949 and 1951. In addition, he established the wrestling program and led the team to a State championship in 1949.

From 1952-56, he served as coach, head of physical education and dean of men at Central State College (now UW-Stevens Point). He led the 1955 football team to the school’s only unbeaten-untied season and implemented the wrestling program.

On the national landscape, Roberts served on the Executive Committee of the National Federation of State High School Associations, including one year as vice president. He was the NFHS’s chief wrestling rules interpreter for 28 years. He also served on the Board of Directors of the United States Wrestling Federation and on the United States Olympic Games Committee from 1973-1976. 

Among the many honors he received included enshrinement in the NFHS Hall of Fame in 2000, which was preceded by receiving the Association’s Award of Merit in 1985. He was inducted into the Iowa Wrestling and UW-Stevens Point Halls of Fame. In 1992, he was honored with the Red Smith Award, given to an individual for their contribution to sports in Wisconsin. He served on the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and the Board of Directors of the National "W" Club. Locally, he was honored as the recipient of the Stevens Point Distinguished Service Award in 1975.

Among the other notable accolades he received during his career was being named the “Man of the Year” by both Scholastic Wrestling News in 1974 and by the United States Wrestling Federation in 1981.

He and his wife, Janet, had three children, John, who is the executive director of the Michigan High School Association; and daughters Laurie and Kim.


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Wisconsin Interscholastic
Athletic Association
5516 Vern Holmes Drive
Stevens Point, WI 54482-8833
Phone (715) 344-8580
Fax (715) 344-4241
Mon-Fri: 7:30 AM - 4:00 PM