Timeouts during the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Prep Classic football games are where a series of National Federation of High Schools-driven public service announcements thrive.
The PSA’s often elicit a few chuckles, including one that takes aim at sportsmanship. Students in a chemistry class are subjected to the taunts of a classmate, who also disrupts experiments and breaks lab equipment.
At the end, the message is simple — if this behavior isn’t right in the classroom, is it right during a game? Another spot says, “Be a fan, not a fanatic.” The plots seem silly, but the message is a serious one for high schools across the country, including those in Louisiana.
A new Louisiana law based on House Bill 184 provides consequences for spectators/parents who harass contest officials, a group that includes referees, coaches and other school/recreation district personnel. The LHSAA already has consequences in place for unsportsmanlike conduct by coaches and athletes. Schools can be fined. Coaches and players can be suspended.
But what about the fan or the parent who believes it is their God-given right to say and do what they please because they paid for a ticket to a game?
Finding the proper limits for fans is not easy. Our society is one of instant gratification and the ability to make a global statement in seconds, thanks to smartphones and social media.
Some schools and youth organizations face the issue by developing a code of conduct and by requiring parents and fans to sign off and adhere to it. In an attempt to curb raucous behavior at its men’s basketball games, some ACC schools list the actions that lead to expulsion on the back of tickets.
The fact that youth and interscholastic games are now treated with the fervor of an NFL game makes finding a balance tougher. Yes, the fan-driven lawsuit regarding the pass interference no-call in the Rams-Saints game probably adds fuel to the fire.
Things were easier when those of us of a certain age, like me, were growing up. The rules were simple. You cheered for your team, and, if you didn’t have something good to say, you could boo what you thought was a bad call or keep your mouth shut.
I had to duck under the backside of my older brother’s hand once. My bad deed? I cheered after the national anthem, something that wasn’t deemed appropriate back then.
However, there is nothing better for me than being at a game where the fans are engaged and cheering. The bands and organized student sections playfully going back-and-forth makes the games better.
Harassment of referees, players, coaches should have no place in recreation of interscholastic sports. Sadly, it does. As I worked on a deadline story at one LHSAA event this spring, another reporter detailed a postgame confrontation involving parents and a coach. I was glad I missed it.
Just as courts and fields have lines that define the playing surface, the lines defining fan behavior at interscholastic and recreation sports events must be identified and should not be crossed. If this new harassment law helps do that and prevents physical altercations, so be it.
I contend that high school sports are one of the few “pure” levels of sports that remain. But each instance of abuse and each altercation chips away at that innocence.