Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Playing along — School district enacts sportsmanship policy

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Skyview High School’s Kyle Day was straining to keep his shoulders off the wrestling mat as his opponent from Colony High School tried equally hard to grind him into it. At the same time, his coaches, teammates and Skyview fans in the bleachers strained to be heard over each other.

“Turn it up a notch!”

“You can get away!”

He did, and went on to win the match Saturday, in the Peninsula Duals wrestling tournament hosted by Nikiski High School. But before he went to receive the slaps on the back and other congratulations from his team, he did what every Skyview wrestler does, win or lose, at the end of every match — shook his competitor’s hand, then his competitor’s coach’s hand.

It doesn’t take long for the post-match ritual to become second nature to the athletes. That’s how good sportsmanship should be.

When it’s not, it takes a little extra attention.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is a few months into its first school year with a new sportsmanship policy in place.

The Alaska School Activities Association and Kenai Peninsula School Activities Association already have rules regarding sportsmanship. The new sportsmanship policy doesn’t change or add anything to those rules, it just focuses attention on them.

“It’s an emphasis on existing rules and what the expectations for people’s conduct are,” said Dave Jones, assistant superintendent of instructional support. “We wanted to let them know that we’re going to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

“Communitywise, it’s a just a lot better experience if everybody is out there supporting their team or their student or child in a positive way and respecting the opponents enough to treat them in a positive way, as well. It just makes for a lot better quality of activity.”
The same penalties and consequences for poor sportsmanship exist this year as in past years, but Jones is hoping the consequences won’t be needed.

“If you do something like that then you get the penalty, the penalty doesn’t make it acceptable now,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is change people’s expectations of what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. It’s not acceptable to get those penalties.”

Jones wrote letters explaining the importance of good sportsmanship and the district’s commitment to it that were given to all athletes and their parents at the start of the sports seasons, and coaches are expected to discuss the issue at parent-student meetings that kick off each sport. The district also created sportsmanship pamphlets that have been distributed at high schools and high school sporting events that outline examples of good sportsmanship for everyone attending a game, from players and coaches to cheerleaders, spectators and sports announcers.

“So everybody gets the idea, ‘Hey, we’re all here to support in a positive way,’ and make sure everybody involved has a worthwhile experience and doesn’t have a negative experience,” Jones said.

The policy was brought about in part as a response to examples of poor sportsmanship that occurred the prior year.

“There were some incidents last year within the district that weren’t good, and we didn’t want them to be repeated, and we wanted to come out in a proactive manner,” Jones said. “It was on the verge of becoming a large problem, and so we wanted to address it before it did.”

He didn’t want to discuss specifics of the incidents, he said.

“When things like that happen and it gets in the news it reflects badly on the district and schools and the students, and we wanted to make sure that didn’t happen. When people come play on the peninsula, they’re glad to come play because we’re great sports,” Jones said.

He added that today’s sports culture contributes to the problem by creating the impression it’s OK to act like a jerk.

“I think what’s happened is in professional sports and in college sports, which you know young kids watch on TV, all the showboating and fighting has gotten out of hand, and it started to trickle down to youth sports,” Jones said. “… On the professional and college level so much of the stuff has become negative, so we’re trying to stress more the positives of good sportsmanship.”

At Saturday’s wrestling meet, parents said they didn’t see a large problem with poor sportsmanship in the district, more like isolated events.

“You see it more with parents, than kids,” said Skyview High School parent Freddie Pollard Jr., who was there to watch his son, Freddie Pollard III, wrestle.

Pollard said he thought poor sportsmanship most often turns up at events with lots of spectators, like football. But even if poor sportsmanship isn’t endemic, it’s still good for kids to be aware of it.

“I think it’s important. It prepares you for life, I would say. I think you can show spirit without showing poor sportsmanship,” Pollard said.

Fellow Skyview parent Bobbie Wilson, who was there to cheer on her son, Bryce Wilson, agreed with Pollard that poor sportsmanship isn’t a large issue in the KPBSD.

“I think for the most part the kids do a good job showing good sportsmanship. If you do see bad sportsmanship, it’s usually because the kids are disappointed in themselves. They’re not being bad sports to the refs or players, it’s just because they’re not happy with themselves,” she said.

Nevertheless, students should be aware of what it means to be a good sport.

“It’s very important,” she said. “We have little guys looking up to them. They set an example. We have Pop Warner football looking up to high school players. I think it brings them together as a family on a team, too.”

Eli Ward, a sophomore wrestler at Nikiski, said he’s noticed poor sportsmanship in the district, mostly at large schools with a history of winning records.

“The bigger schools that have been on the top in the past think they can go out there and walk all over (their opponents),” Ward said. “You may be talented, but if you don’t work hard and respect the other players, you’re not going to make it out there in the real word.”
Ward said he’s gotten the message about sportsmanship long before the new policy was enacted.

“Ever since seventh grade all my coaches say, ‘Go out and play for fun, go hard and show respect to the other players.’ It doesn’t matter if they’re more or less skilled, you should always show respect to them,” he said.

Jones said he heard mostly positive comments about the sportsmanship policy when he set it in motion. The negative comments he heard came from people who thought it was targeting them, specifically. Jones said the policy covers the entire district and doesn’t focus on any one school or sport.

“One of the objectives that I told the administration and coaches when I first had some of these meetings was that we would like the activities and sports on the Kenai Peninsula to be as respected as we are for our classroom activities and results,” Jones said. “We’re one of the leaders in the state in academics, and we want to be one in sportsmanship.”

He said the sports season has gone well so far this year.

“I think we’ve seen better overall behavior. We’ve had some isolated incidents, but compared to the prior year, knock on wood so far, this has been a lot better,” Jones said.

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