Sports Editorial - A culture of sportsmanship

Thursday, February 19, 2009

With high school basketball districts just around the corner, this is a good time to assess where we stand as schools and communities on the issue of sportsmanship.

High school basketball is the king of Missouri prep sports. Many small schools do not participate in football or soccer, and basketball and baseball are the main spectator sports. Basketball, with its unique arena atmosphere and universal attraction, brings communities together in defiance of the winter season in a way that no other sport does.

It is a compliment to the quality of area teams that sportsmanship is even an issue. Without quality teams, there is no fervor or passion. There aren't too many technicals, ejections or controversies when two 3-20 teams play.

It is a good thing for high school students to attend these events, to actively support their teams and schools, to exhibit a sense of pride and ownership, and to develop a keener sense of community. Kids, being kids, need guidance to learn what is acceptable behavior and what is not when representing their schools and communities.

Some excesses can be tolerated, while others require immediate intervention. What flies at some schools would draw discipline at others. Context and consistency are important.

As I travel the area, covering games and meeting players, coaches and fans, I am moved by the passion for good at all the schools I cover. From Verona to Washburn to Joplin, and all stops in between, I see people expressing their appreciation for the games and their participants in positive ways.

Purdy has the "bleacher creatures," an informal group of high school girls who dress in bizarre costumes while cheering on the Eagles. The Cassville Crazies are just that. Don't adjust your television set-those vests really are that bright. Judging from the student section at Southwest, there is no recession in the face paint industry. Of course, there are other examples as well.

I do have some pet peeves though. As a coach and health teacher, I have zero tolerance for any chants, songs or whatever that contain references to drugs or alcohol. To my mind, these have absolutely no place in a school setting.

Booing is by definition a negative action, and its darkest and crudest forms also have no place at school events. To be fair, I see a difference in the acidic boos that intermittently erupt during some contests, and the welcoming boos that greet the opposing team as they take the floor for warm-ups.

Good teams view this ritualistic welcome as a sign of respect, and expect no less on the road. Right or wrong, it is standard behavior at the college level and has trickled down to the high school game.

While I personally prefer the simple repetitious chant, "Our house, our house" when the visiting team takes the floor, I understand that there are differing views. A good rule of thumb is: "When in doubt, don't." Dignity and decorum never go out of style.

I have to say that Cassville High School is the hands-down winner in my personal observations of school sportsmanship. While some schools only pay lip service to sportsmanship, Cassville gets it done.

At all schools, parents, staff and administration are important in maintaining a safe and courteous atmosphere at school events, but there is no greater influence on crowd behavior than positive peer pressure. I challenge the students of all area schools to build on their strong foundation of good conduct and manifest a true culture of sportsmanship at every contest.

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