By Rob Cuff, UHSAA Executive Director
Photo by Shane Marshall
The game was just five minutes old and several parents were already hollering at their own kids competing on the field. A few moms and dads demanded their children play harder.
“Take a shot!” they shouted. Others ordered their young athletes to hold the ball longer. “Don’t be so quick to pass!” The coaches on both sidelines soon found themselves shouting over the parents’ din simply to be heard.
Ten minutes into the game and the parents were screaming at the referees. From opposing sides, they barked the same, tired protests the officials had likely heard countless times at countless games: “Hey Ref, call the game both ways!” and, of course, “Open your eyes, Ref, you’re missing a good game!”
Fifteen minutes into the game and the parents were hollering at each other. Some accused their counterparts of instructing their children to play rough. “Shut your mouths!” snapped a woman. One dad challenged another dad to fight him after the game. A faint threat of violence had degenerated into a distinct possibility.
On the field, coaches and players began to argue and protest every call. No matter what the referees called or didn’t call, there was complaining in every instance. Exasperated, the referee blew the whistle, bringing play to a halt.
The referee walked to one sideline and told coaches, players and fans that no one had come to the game to listen to them moan, yell and whine. Then the referee turned to the other sideline and offered the same plea. Meanwhile, the players were left to witness the awkward scene of their coaches and parents being scolded by another adult.
Some of the athletes were likely embarrassed by the lack of sportsmanship on both sides. One or two might have decided at that moment that the game wasn’t much fun anymore. Other young players might have left the field believing, wrongly, that passionate, competitive play justifies poor conduct and abandoned self-control. Perhaps they would continue to follow their coaches’ and their parents’ bad example in future games.
If we do it the right way, then high school sports and activities offer one of the best opportunities for young people to learn valuable life lessons including respect, integrity, honesty, teamwork, leadership, learning to deal with adversity, fair play, goal setting, discipline and personal responsibility.
Character is taught when we are fitting examples of good sportsmanship. Maintaining the value of sportsmanship is all of our business.
“We hope to instill in our students and athletes the desire to act with character, not just because they believe it is expected, but because they believe it is right,” Robert Kanaby, former NFHS Executive Director said.
It is our collective responsibility to promote positive sportsmanship at all our activities. High school activities are education-based activities. Let’s rededicate ourselves to the values and traditional purposes of education based activities as part of the total educational framework.
There is much to be learned from high school activities that can serve students well in later years. As fans, coaches and administrators, it is important to make activities fun, inviting and educational. We must expect high levels of citizenship and sportsmanship by enforcing standards of excellence within all of our activities at all times. As a result, we can then enjoy the products of our programs as our student athletes grow and develop in many positive ways.