For years, the Oregon School Activities Association has encouraged schools to promote good sportsmanship by their fans and teams at sports events. Now it’s required.
OSAA has new sportsmanship regulations this year that require schools to address sportsmanship issues, and the new policy has teeth, including potentially stiff penalties for schools that don’t enforce the rules.
“This is the next step in the OSAA being more proactive,” Siuslaw athletic director Chris Johnson said.
The new rules follow legislation that made it through the Oregon House of Representatives and Senate this year, House Bill 3409, a bipartisan effort that made it through the legislature without any opposition.
The legislative actions came after a number of incidents across the state, some more blatant than others involving bigotry or racial taunting of athletes and teams.
In an editorial piece written in June, OSAA Executive Director Peter Weber said girls basketball players from Parkrose High School were racially taunted by three fans during one road trip.
“Such behavior is repugnant and has no place in our schools and their related activities,” Weber wrote. “Our schools, ballfields, gyms and other venues are not an outlet for hatred and bigotry. This hatred and bigotry should not be tolerated anywhere.
“Even more troubling about this incident is that according to reports, none of the adults in attendance took measures to stop this harassing behavior.”
Weber said issues have been reported in several communities of racial slurs and taunts aimed at African-Ameircan, Latino and Native American students.
Johnson said it’s appropriate for the legislature to take action.
“There should be a level of decorum that could happen from common sense,” he said.
The new rules make it clear that all cheering, comments and actions at contests should be in direct support of a fan’s own team.
“Discriminating harassment and bullying behavior will not be tolerated,” the rule 3.3 in the OSAA handbook states.
The rule lists various actions that will not be allowed, including verbal or non-verbal communication.
“Harassment does not have to include intent to harm, be directed at a specific target, or involve repeated incidents,” the rule reads. “Harassment creates a hostile environment when conduct is sufficiently severe, pervasive, or persistent, so as to interfere with or limit the ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities or opportunities offered by a school.”
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Under the section of relating to spectator conduct, the rule reads “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.”
Examples of unacceptable conduct include “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.”
Schools are required to address issues that come up with fans, coaches or players. OSAA can issue penalties including fines, forfeits of contests or even suspension and ultimately expulsion of OSAA membership to schools that are in violation, especially if no action is taken.
“The (executive) Board may determine that no penalties are necessary when an incident has been handled appropriately and in a timely fashion by the school and/or district,” the OSAA rule reads.
Like Johnson, North Bend athletic director Mike Forrester is a fan of the increased emphasis on sportsmanship.
“I think it’s a great thing,” Forrester said of the new rule. “No. 1, I think it forces the schools to be proactive. But now, we can actually go (to a fan) and say, ‘Hey, that’s not nice, and if it continues we are going to have to talk about you being here and if we don’t there is going to be something that happens to our school.
“I think it’s a great thing for high school sports.”
North Bend has always had its stadium announcer read a sportsmanship message before basketball and football games. Now the school also has added a message on the programs that are handed out at games “that helps people understand that we are not going to harass officials and we are going to be positive with members of the other team,” Forrester said.
Forrester also addressed the issue with his coaches.
“We talked about the bill and I’ve asked the coaches to be proactive and have conversations at their parent meetings about sportsmanship and about how everybody should be able to come to the game and enjoy themselves, whether it be an athlete, an official or parent, and not at the expense of somebody else.”
Johnson pointed out that it’s not just the athletes impacted by taunting. Across the state and in nearly every sport, officials associations are having problems with low numbers in part because of the rude behavior they face from fans.
“In the old days, it was OK to scream and yell at an official, but it’s not OK anymore,” Johnson said. “We are not retaining officials and recruiting officials at the levels we need to maintain solvency.”
Like at North Bend, Siuslaw has made an emphasis encouraging good sportsmanship, and Johnson sees it making a difference.
“It’s been good for us,” he said, mentioning for example, “We’ve had fans telling others to calm down.”