Columnist says schools should give them the opportunity
By Bert Lehman
The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) came under fire last week for an email it sent to high schools in December.
The WIAA stated in the email, “As we reviewed the fall tournaments and the sportsmanship evaluations and observations, we want to address concerns with a noticeable increase in the amount of chants by student sections directed at opponents and/or opponents’ supporters that are clearly intended to taunt or disrespect.”
The email indicated that “any action directed at opposing teams or their spectators with the intent to taunt, disrespect, distract or entice an unsporting behavior in response is not acceptable sportsmanship.
Specific examples of unsporting behavior by student were listed in the email. The listed chants included, “You can’t do that,” “Fundamentals,” “Air ball,” “There’s a net there,” “Sieve,” “We can’t hear you,” the “scoreboard” cheer, and “Season’s over” during tournament series play.
Many of the chants that the WIAA say are “unsporting behavior” have been chanted at basketball games of all skill levels for as long as I can remember.
After the public found out about the email, the WIAA faced scrutiny on a national level. Sports Illustrated wrote about it. Jay Bilas, lead NCAA basketball commentary for ESPN, sent out a plethora of tweets with “acceptable” cheers at Wisconsin high schools basketball games, mocking the WIAA email.
In the following days the WIAA tried to backtrack from the email, tweeting, “To be clear… there has been no new directives, no new rules, no new mandates, no new enforcement expectations.”
I’m not sure what their definition of “directive” or “mandate” is, considering the original email stated, “Student groups, school administrators and event managers should take immediate steps to correct this unsporting behavior.”
I agree that there is a line that can’t be crossed when it comes to chants at high school sporting events, but in my opinion the majority of the chants the WIAA listed in its email do not cross that line.
I didn’t play basketball in high school, but I did play baseball all four years, lettering three of those years. There is heckling in baseball, but that never bothered me. In fact, it made me more determined to correct whatever I was being heckled for. As the saying goes, “It builds character.”
And that is the problem when we try to protect kids from every adverse thing that life throws at them. We have to stop doing that. We need to let kids be kids, let them learn from adversity. After all, isn’t that the goal of every high school, to prepare students for adulthood and life in the real world? Not letting, in this case, student athletes, face what real life will throw at them, is doing the students a disservice.
The subject of the WIAA email even received commentary during one of ESPN’s sports news shows. The commentary by Scott Van Pelt was titled, “Are you for real, Wisconsin?”
In the commentary Van Pelt states, “Consider how totally out of control the climate has become. Now bullying in school, it’s real. Awareness as well as preventative measures, of course, are worthwhile but just stop, stop trying to protect kids from a boogie man, that in this instance, just doesn’t exist.”
About the chants the WIAA considers disrespectful, Van Pelt says, “The idea chants that ‘clearly intended to disrespect’ shouldn’t be allowed is laughably absurd and I can’t fathom that anybody who actually played would have signed off on this.”
Van Pelt concluded his commentary by stating, “Just stop. You can’t, and you shouldn’t homogenize cheers at games. Protect kids from real harm at all costs. Shielding them from things that aren’t even harmful makes them feeble and weak-minded. And they’re not. They can handle it. So let them.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Whether the email from the WIAA was meant as a directive or just a suggestion, the WIAA needs to let kids be kids.