This week marks the third week of the high school football season, and the first or second week of the season of other fall sports teams, current weather notwithstanding.
Along that theme, the Baraboo School Board may become a trendsetter with a code of conduct for Baraboo High School fans, including parents. The code, which can be read at www.baraboo.k12.wi.us, tries to go further than ejecting fans from games for boorish behavior in the opinion of game or school officials.
• “I will not coach my child or other players during games and/or practices. I understand that I am the parent or fan and will leave the coaching to those who have been entrusted with the position.”
• “I will refrain from undermining or spreading ill will by passing on gossip, rumors, and innuendos which would or could destroy team morale or cohesiveness.”
• “I, and my guests, will not engage in any kind of unsportsmanlike or disrespectful conduct toward an official, coach, player or parent such as booing, taunting or using profane or offensive language or gestures.”
• “I will support the 24-Hour Rule: with the exception of the safety of a student, parents are not to address athletic concerns with the coach for at least 24 hours after a contest. I will follow the established protocol for addressing concerns if an issue arises.”
• “I will not post on any social media site negative, demeaning or derogatory comments that may hurt, humiliate, threaten or intimidate any player, coach or spectator.”
• Things not to be discussed with coaches include “playing time, coaching style, game strategy (including substitutions), style of play, information regarding a child other than your own and team awards.”
Penalties for failing to follow the code start at verbal and written warnings, go to ejections, and end with suspension from BHS games for “a period between one contest to a permanent ban.”
The code seems unremarkable in that these are things fans, including parents of students, should and should not be doing. The enforceability of the code is another subject, particularly the parts about gossip and social media, either of which head into the realm of free speech. It would be more effective if it were a conference-wide code instead of an individual school’s code; a fan banned from BHS home games could always go to road games and get in unnoticed by those selling tickets.
Poor adult sportsmanship is the result of many causes. Some parents make the mistake of reliving their own high school athlete days, good or bad, through their children. (And perhaps today’s adults learned screaming at officials, etc., from their parents.) Others think if their child is the star — regardless of how the team does — their child can get an all-expenses-paid college scholarship. People have bad days or weeks at work, and take it out on a convenient target. It also ties into not caring about what high school athletics is supposed to be about, and focusing only on tonight’s, or this season’s results.
For any code of conduct to work requires fans and parents of athletes to look themselves in the mirror. Everyone who has attended many high school events can tell stories about loudmouth or obnoxious fans, but those are almost always the other team’s fans, rarely your own, and never yourself. One can legitimately ask how a code of fan conduct can possibly work in a society where discussion and disagreement has devolved to the point it has sunk to in this country.
As with any code or regulation, interpretation and enforcement matter. Students at Cuba City High School have been known for years to chant, when a basketball win was imminent, “If you’re a [opponent] fan, go out and start your van,” or, shorter, “Start the bus! Start the bus!” Is that unsportsmanlike?
The extreme example is my alma mater, UW–Madison, which veered from cracking down on misbehavior at Camp Randall Stadium (including passing bleachers and fencing around and over the top of the stadium, not to mention body-passing) to letting questionable fan conduct go because students weren’t going to games. Camp Randall has always been a nest of bad fan conduct (even comments about Badger fans sitting in certain sections, and that’s all I can say about that in print), not merely due to alcohol, but due to, until the past 20 years or so, a bad product on the field.
It would be interesting if area school districts instituted Baraboo’s, or a similar, code of fan conduct, or at least discussed the subject, particularly when most people who follow athletics can probably recall examples of at least five of the six bullet points earlier in this column taking place, even when the coach has a truckload of wins and titles to his or her name.
My prediction, however, is that not many schools will adopt a sportsmanship code like Baraboo's, because to most fans sportsmanship is not a substitute for winning. (That's in addition to the need for it to be a regional code, such as an entire athletic conference, instead of just applying to a single high school.) There is a high school in Grant County whose principal decades ago actively pushed for his high school to receive its conference's sportsmanship award each year. This was during a period when that high school wasn't very good in team sports. If you polled most fans anywhere as to whether they'd prefer good sports or being good sports, I think they would choose the former.