High school athletics raises bar
Last updated 8/9/2022 at Noon
In response to a noticeable uptick in poor behavior among fans and athletes alike, the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) has established higher expectations for everyone involved in high school athletics in Oregon.
Step one in this change process requires that all coaches, athletic directors, and game officials take part in a training to stop racist and other discriminatory incidents from taking place during high school sporting events.
The training program, dubbed “Interrupting and Preventing Discriminatory Acts,” reinforces how to recognize and respond to discriminatory behaviors while they are happening.
It’s not just the OSAA that is turning up the focus on this problem. The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) is also responding to data that clearly shows that unsporting behavior has increased across the nation in recent years. The NFHS has made this issue their top focus for the upcoming year. It’s a problem nationwide.
A number of schools, including Clatskanie, Molalla, Sandy, and La Grande, faced sanctions in Oregon last school year after OSAA investigations determined that opposing teams faced racial slurs from players and fans. Referees have reported heightened incidents of personal threats. Fans have become more and more unruly.
Gary Thorson, athletic director for Sisters High School, sent out a reminder to all coaches last week to complete the new training as the fall sports season approaches. Thorson welcomes the focus on the issue.
“We want high school contests to be free of all unsportsmanlike behaviors and for all visiting teams to feel welcome to our school,” he said. “Sisters has always been very welcoming to visiting teams, but we can always do better.”
The issue of sportsmanship and crowd control falls under Rule 3 of the OSAA handbook, which can be viewed in full on the http://www.osaa.org website. In part the rule states:
“All cheers, comments, and actions shall be in direct support of one’s team.
No cheers, comments, or actions shall be directed at one’s opponent or at contest officials.
Some examples of unacceptable conduct include but are not limited to: disrespecting players by name, number, or position; negative cheers or chants; throwing objects on the playing surface; use of derogatory or racially explicit language; discriminatory harassment or conduct that creates a hostile environment that is disruptive to the educational environment.
Spectators shall not be permitted to use vulgar/offensive or racially/culturally insensitive language or engage in any racially/culturally insensitive action.”
These expectations have not changed significantly from previous years, but the response to such behaviors, particularly while they are happening, have been enhanced.
The host school administration is largely responsible for creating a welcoming environment for visiting teams, but coaches from both sides, along with officials, and even fans, have a role to play in recognizing and helping to interrupt inappropriate behavior.
To use a straightforward example, a basketball player, wearing number 17, is singled out by opposing fans after shooting two consecutive air-balls and they begin chanting “17’s a loser” every time he even touches the ball.
In this incident, the referee may stop play and discuss the issue with school officials and coaches, who are then expected to redirect the fans. Event managers can also intervene to redirect fans if the referee has not already halted play.
If the behavior is more subversive, but noticed by other fans, they can try to redirect the offending fan by speaking to them directly and saying something like “That’s not our culture here. Those aren’t our values.” If confronting the perpetrator gently seems too risky, the fan would be expected to contact school officials on site to squelch it.
Athlete-to-athlete harassment can be interrupted by the official if they notice it. An athlete being harassed should report it to the coach immediately.
Teammates who notice harassment taking place are also expected to speak up. Athlete-to-athlete harassment can result in ejection from the contest, based on the official’s judgment. In these incidents, play will be stopped in order for communication to take place among coaches, players, and school officials about what actions to take.
Obviously, cheers, chants, comments, or actions that are discriminatory in nature will not be tolerated. Fans who are obviously out of line, or persist after being warned may be ejected from the premises, issued a trespass citation, excluded from future activities, or even referred to law enforcement, depending on the nature of the behavior.
Host schools are expected to take steps to ensure adequate event supervision will be present for the contest and communicate about how any concerns should be addressed during the contest. Signage on site and reminders from the announcers of the games can also serve as ways to prevent unwanted behaviors.
The visiting team will have an authorized representative (administrator, staff member, or coach) on hand at all contests in order to fulfill the role of upholding the sportsmanship expectations.
The OSAA has adopted the S.T.A.R. Initiative (Safety, Tolerance, Acceptance, Respect) as part of the enhanced expectations for schools. The S.T.A.R. mission statement is “To create a safe, welcoming, and validating environment in Oregon schools by specifically disrupting racism and combating discrimination so every student can thrive as they are.”