Three strikes and you're out under new spectator behavior policy for St. Lawrence County sports contests
BY JIMMY LAWTON
North Country This Week
Three strikes and you’re out. That’s essentially how a spectator policy implemented by Section 10 sports hopes to curb a rise of inappropriate behavior from parents and attendees at school sports games.
Section 10 Executive Director Mark Wilson said that school sports has always had a fair share of hot tempers and arguing with officials, but the problem has escalated in recent years.“We’ve always had people get upset about bad calls, but some spectators are harping on these officials and following them to the locker room, swearing at them,” he said.
Wilson said there was even one incident last year where a spectator grabbed the arm of an official.
Wilson said the behavior hurts the atmosphere which is supposed to be about supporting, fostering and boosting confidence in students. But even worse is the harsh treatment of officials, creating a chilling effect on recruiting referees.
Wilson said there has been a shortage of officials for games, causing cancellation of modified sports at times. While many industries are facing staff shortages, Wilson believes the poor treatment of officials by unruly spectators is a contributing factor.
“When you ask people why (they don’t want to referee), almost universally, they say it’s because of the spectators at the games,” he said.
Wilson said that curbing the behavior is essential in order for sports to continue. He said it’s plausible that if the problem continues to grow, more games will be canceled due to a lack of officials.
“Students are happy when people attend games. We want people to come and cheer for their team or both teams really,” he said. “What we don’t want is people being negative, we want to enhance everyone’s experience by addressing the problem.”
Wilson said he believes the rise in unruly behavior is systemic and is related to a culture shift. He noted that you see officials belittled on television and he says that sends a message that it’s acceptable behavior, even though it isn’t.
Wilson also noted that volunteer staff in youth sports has declined, which has led to a free-for-all of sorts without people there to address such behaviors as they arise.
“We are hoping by highlighting this issue that school officials and parents will take a more active role in getting moderators at the game,” he said, adding that some districts which have had persistent problems have started taking action.
He also says the state is looking at a potential statewide fix, though he says it will likely be some time before it's implemented.
Spectator Behavior Policy
Wilson said the new policy is essentially a “three-strikes and you’re out” system.
“Maintaining safe conditions for our student-athletes, staff, families and community members is our highest priority. This new policy will make expectations clear for all spectators, and help ensure everyone is able to enjoy our sporting contests,” he said.
Individual districts may decide to enact steeper penalties,” he said.
The new policy says that negative, inappropriate, derogatory comments or actions that bring direct attention to a supervisor or school administrator by a spectator or group of spectators are required to be addressed by the host school, coach, district administration, or representative from the New York State Public High School Athletic Association.
People who commit those actions will be given a first warning where the spectator will be directed to refrain from such actions or comments.
If the behavior continues, a second warning will be issued and will include a personal discussion with the spectators or group of spectators on NYSPHSAA expectations and a reminder they will be removed from the game or event if the behavior continues.
If a third incident occurs, the person will be removed from the contest.
“The spectator or group of spectators will be directed to leave the facility for the remainder of the game or event. If spectators or a group of spectators refuse to leave the game or event, play will be stopped until they vacate the premises,” the policy says.
Wilson noted that districts or officials have the right to bypass the steps based on the severity of the situation.
Any spectator removed from a game or event will have a minimum penalty of completing the National Federation of State High School Association’s Parent Credential courses (Positive Parenting Within School Programs & The Parent Seat) and a one game suspension before they are allowed to attend any interscholastic event, home or away.
The suspension will be in effect for the next interscholastic event at the same level of the same sport from which the spectator removal occurred and if the removal occurs during the last game of a sport season, the suspension will be served in the next applicable interscholastic event in a subsequent sport season. Upon completion of the NFSHS Parent Credential course, the spectator will provide the certificate of completion to the athletic department office.
“Failure to comply will result in an additional suspension. Schools are required to communicate with the offending spectator on the NYSPHSAA Spectator Sportsmanship Expectation,” the policy says. “Depending on the severity of the behavior or future disqualifications by the offending spectator, NYSPHSAA and the Section may get directly involved in the situation.”
Partnering districts include 18 schools in St. Lawrence-Lewis Counties; Brasher Falls, Canton, Clifton-Fine, Colton-Pierrepont, Edwards-Knox, Gouverneur, Hammond, Harrisville, Hermon-Dekalb, Heuvelton, Lisbon, Madrid-Waddington, Massena, Morristown, Norwood-Norfolk, Ogdensburg, Parishville-Hopkinton and Potsdam. Six in Franklin County; Chateauguay, Brushton-Moira, Malone, Salmon River, St. Regis Falls and Tupper Lake.