The most common sight at a high school sports competition often goes unremarked, perhaps because it is what is expected. Good sportsmanship. It is enforced from the state rules of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association to the daily interactions with coaches, schools, and parents with their student athletes.
On Saturday, Feb. 6, at the SWC-SWAL CLASH conference championship wrestling meet in Mineral Point there was a breach of good sportsmanship. It was not a breach of conduct by students, but by two adults in attendance resulting in police intervention.
At 2:12 p.m. Mineral Point officers responded to a physical altercation between Troy M. Wardell, 46, of Muscoda, and Andrew W. Dearborn, 31, of Muscoda, at the Mineral Point High School. The officers separated the two men, offered medical care for minor injuries, and removed the parties from the school. Disorderly conduct citations have been issued to both parties.
An official at the meet filed a report with the WIAA, according to Wade Labecki, the WIAA wrestling director, who said that because the situation did not involve a student, the report was turned over to the Fennimore School District to address as a personnel matter.
“He (Wardell) presented himself at the meet and registered as a (Fennimore) coach and sat in the corner for at least a match or two,” Labecki recounted of his report. “Something happened with an athlete being injured. A fan said something to him, he hit the speaker, and then was escorted out.”
Dearborn, according to Labecki, appears to have been at the meet as a Riverdale fan and Wardell has a son on the Fennimore team.
Any discipline toward Wardell over the physical altercation would be meted out by the school on the basis of that report, Labecki explained. He added that from the WIAA side there does appear to be contention over Wardell’s role with the school wrestling program and whether he is actually involved in coaching.
Wardell is a parent and does not serve as a coach or paid assistant to the program, according to Fennimore head wrestling coach Chad Steldt.
Steldt noted that he is proud of the program and that his focus is on developing his athletes. An incident like this is regrettable and foolish.
According to Bryce Bird, the district administrator at Riverdale, if a person involved in an altercation such as this is attached to the coaching staff even as a volunteer, the school can find themselves needing representation in the event of litigation. But when it is a fan acting out, the school bears no liability.
Fennimore school administrator Jamie Nutter has been in administration for 20 years and said this is not the first incident where people have made bad choices. He said those involved were caught up in the moment and said it is important to learn from this and move forward. He indicated that Wardell informed him that he will not be attending the upcoming Division 3 regional match at Riverdale.
“As adults we owe it to the kids to behave as well as they do,” Nutter said.
Nutter does not see this type of incident happening again based on his conversations since the incident. He said school boards through their school policy delegate authority with administration to keep their own buildings and grounds safe. He said a decision on how to handle the parties involved in the incident for an upcoming event would be up to the school hosting, which would be Mineral Point.
“I think Mineral Point will take a look at how the whole incident happened and make decisions based on what occurred,” Nutter said of any potential ban for those involved. He added that Mineral Point has always ran a great tournament
The worst of this is the negative attention, though, in Bird’s opinion. He feels that those invested in focusing on incidents like this are often those who enjoy the drama.
“It’s unfortunate, because an event like this can overshadow the students and their competition,” Bird said. It is especially unfortunate if something like this ends up reflecting on the whole district. Incidents like this involve a few people.”
In this case, a few people who don’t appear to represent either school as other than fans.
“Fans have to remember to accept official decisions just as we ask the students to do,” Bird added. “This is just part of the contest. We expect fans to cheer and support their teams in a positive manner. We have to remember that this is a competition between students, not fans.”
If a fan fails to behave appropriately, they will be asked to leave or will be removed by the police, Bird noted. And if a fan is aggressive enough they can be banned.
Though, Bird noted, in his 30 years of participating in school sporting events as a school representative, he has neither had to deal with a physical altercation or had to ban an attendee, a fact he feels reflects his experience that most fans practice the good sportsmanship demanded of their students.
Nutter said in recent weeks schools in Wisconsin have been criticized for promoting too much sportsmanship. “Maybe sportsmanship makes sense,” he said.
Fennimore Times staff contributed to this report.