If you have noticed a quieter atmosphere in high school games in the New Year, there may be a reason.
An email from the WIAA to high school athletic directors was sent to “address concerns with a noticeable increase in the amount of chants by student sections directed at opponents and/or opponents’ supporters that are clearly intended to taunt or disrespect,” according to The Post~Crescent in Appleton.
While the email said the WIAA doesn’t want to “restrict creativity or enjoyment” and that “an enthusiastic and boisterous display of support for a school’s team is welcomed and encouraged at interscholastic events when directed in a positive manner,” the email directs that “any action directed at opposing teams or their spectators with the intent to taunt, disrespect, distract or entice an unsporting behavior in response in not acceptable sportsmanship. Student groups, school administrators and event managers should take immediate steps to correct this unsporting behavior.”
The list in the WIAA email includes “You can’t do that” (a favorite at Platteville High School), “Fun-da-men-tals,” “Air ball,” “There’s a net there,” “Sieve” (a UW hockey chant directed at opposing goaltenders that I had thought was banned from high school hockey three decades ago), “We can’t hear you,” the “scoreboard” cheer, and “Season’s over” after a postseason loss.
The first victim of these new guidelines appears to be Hilbert High School student April Gehl, a basketball player who expressed her opinion about the WIAA guidelines with a Twitter suggestion that the WIAA eat that which is cleaned out of barns on a regular basis. The WIAA apparently saw the Tweet and sent it to HHS administration, and HHS responded by suspending Gehl for five games, almost one-fourth of Gehl’s senior season.
It is safe to say that our fair state has now become a laughing stock of the social media world. Sports Illustrated opened its story on Cheergate by saying that “The ‘W’ in WIAA technically stands for ‘Wisconsin,’ but it should really stand for ‘whining.’” (A comment substituted “wuss.”) One of those A’s also must stand for “arrogance,” and we won’t speculate what others might think the other A stands for.
None of this should be a surprise in our oversensitive, overemotional times in which everything offends, whether offense was intended or not, and whether an offensive act actually took place. (Which interestingly contrasts with our increasingly coarse culture, as anyone watching movies or TV can attest.)
I admit to coming from a generation that was, by today’s apparent standards, less politically correct. (Though I must say the number of words not usually uttered in polite company has probably increased since I left high school three decades ago.) “You–you–you” was the usual response to an opponent’s foul. I believe my high school may have inaugurated a Madison police presence at athletic events, at least when playing the archrivals from East Washington Avenue. (And then I went to UW–Madison, where student conduct at sporting events is legendary, as anyone who has sat through a Badger football game can attest.) Then again, we also came from a generation where if you weren’t doing well in school, or doing what you were supposed to be doing in school, a teacher might yell at you, and a coach would definitely yell at you.
Off the aforementioned list “Season’s over” might be a bit harsh, but so might be a coach telling a player the player is playing poorly, or a teacher telling a student he or she needs to work harder to get better grades. What gets taught when children are shielded from criticism? (Including baseless criticism, which we all get.)
Voters and taxpayers should have major problems with the WIAA even before this. Neither of the A’s in “WIAA” stands for “accountable,” because the WIAA isn’t. The WIAA uses taxpayer resources to hold events, whether games are held in public high schools or municipal facilities such as Legion Park in Platteville. Taxes pay the salaries of high school coaches and those who staff games. Taxes pay WIAA membership fees assessed on schools (though those fees were waived last school year). And yet the taxpayer and the voter get no say at all with the antidemocratic WIAA.
There will be an immediate result of this in school districts that decide to enforce fan conduct the way the WIAA wants it to, and it won’t be positive. Remember the Baraboo School District, which approved a code of conduct policy? Fan attendance, particularly student attendance, has reportedly decreased at games. Attendance has dropped significantly from my first days in this area in the late 1980s. If students don’t go to games, their parents won’t either. If fans, including adults who don’t have kids in school anymore, don’t feel welcome to cheer at games, that will be one more reason for adults to not support their local schools.