At Packer Park, there’s a lightning detector that gives off an alarm (sounds a bit like an air horn, the kind an obnoxious spectator brings to the game) telling you it’s time to get off the field. It gets a good workout when you trying to play softball in August or baseball in March on those late afternoons and the dark clouds start rolling in on cue.
Another type of alarm sounded all over the nation recently. Not for Dorian; that only impacted the Atlantic coast. The whole country had to be rocked, however, by the headline that high school sports participation dropped for the first time in 30 years. Never mind that the total numbers of student-athletes for 2018-19 was the third largest in history; somehow we lost 43,395 along the way. The story says 2017-18 was an all-time high closing in on 8 million; but really, it goes without saying that if the numbers are going up every year, you are setting a new record.
Is this a crisis? Still looks like a healthy number to me. Make your own comparisons to the stock market and record high Dows that can take a big hit but still be pretty impressive.
What should really get our attention are some numbers presented by the Georgia High School Association in its latest newsletter.
This isn’t the first time executive director Robin Hines addressed this topic right up front, that being sportsmanship. Everyone can agree on the need to play the game by the rules and be respectful to your opposition, if you are having, say, a round table discussion. When it comes time to get to the playing field and see a close family member or your cherished alma mater in combat, some of those sentiments get lost in the swill of your emotional investment.
Hines tells us that the number of ejections went above 1,400 for all GHSA events during the 2018-19 school year. That’s both players and coaches combined. When it’s a coach that’s kicked out of the game, he or she becomes – as the saying goes – a little lighter in the wallet. The fine is $250 for the first one per the GHSA Constitution plus any penalties (not monetary I would assume) based on the sport’s by-laws. For players, they get an NFHS Sportsmanship Course to complete that first time tossed.
“It is our hope that adverse behavior is drastically reduced this school year as well as fines eliminated. That is one line in the budget that we would love to see reduced,” said Hines in the newsletter.
Now, there’s always counterpoint to the point. If there’s a campaign called, “It Can Wait,” surely there’s another one called “No It Can’t.”
To help give a voice to those coaches and players so they do not feel ganged up on as being all poor sports, here’s a good retort: “If the officiating wasn’t so bad, there wouldn’t be any ejections! What are we supposed to do, bite our tongues?” Don’t suppose the will statistics bear it out, but it is a good guess that the percentage of all ejections being over disputed calls is in the 90s. There is the automatic ejection for something like targeting in football or collisions at home plate in baseball, but otherwise, it’s about how you didn’t like that whistle, flag or lack thereof.
So here’s the counter voice of the game official: “I stand by my calls. Plus, I’m only human. What are you going to do, get robots to do this thankless job?”
Sometimes ejections are calculated; it’s the coach’s way of getting his or her team fired up. You also must show your players you have their backs. When a home run hitter is called out on an appeal throw to the plate because he didn’t step on home plate, it’s almost a sure bet that player’s coach is done for the day.
Both the coaches and the officials involved share the onus of showing professionalism. Officiating is a hard job with so much for which to be on the lookout, and sometimes calls are missed.
Sometimes, even ejections are not done properly. That was the case in Colquitt County’s 2018 playoff series vs. Etowah at home. Coaches from Etowah were thrown out of one of the games, but the GHSA overturned their suspensions. The association’s statement on it basically said it was a matter that should have been turned over to the game administrator.
In this same GHSA newsletter, Hines is joined by NFHS executive director Karissa Niehoff as authors on a piece about adult behavior in high school sports. Not coaches, but parents and other spectators. This is a problem that’s reached “epidemic proportions.”
It says there was a survey of 2,000 athletic directors nationwide. On the question of what they like least about the job, 62.3 percent said dealing with aggressive parents and adult fans.
Another epidemic the GHSA is concerned about is the shrinking number of game officials. Nationally, it says 80 percent of them quit after just two years, and a big reason why is the unruly parents.
So the GHSA offers six guidelines I would like to share in abbreviated form (some with a personal comment or two):
1. Act your age (You wonder who the real children are sometimes)
2. Don’t live vicariously through your children (I love how it says your reputation is not determined by how well your children perform)
3. Let your children talk to the coach (Yes, they have a coach on a high school team, competent or not, and they are paid to determine playing time and what is best for all)
4. Stay in your lane (I get that it’s hard to put the child’s further development and success into someone else’s hands, but why can’t you just watch the game without throwing in your own two cents worth to all parties)
5. It’s not about getting a college scholarship (Did a piece on that last year thanks to the GHSA, which reminds us only 2 percent get one)
6. Make sure you child knows you love watching him/her play
None of this is to say don’t be enthusiastic; just don’t let it get to the level of drawing the spotlight to yourself.
Yes, when the championships are on the line, we adults are a little less tolerant of anything detrimental to our pending celebration. That close pitch better be called a strike, or you better see that extra step taken before the shot went in the air.
Maybe one of my ideas from the past will come to fruition, and not just on an experimental basis. It may get to where only one certified referee can show up to the soccer field or basketball court. So, you fill in the gaps with one parent from each team, the ones who see all the pushes and know how to count three seconds in the lane. Would pay to see those discussions unfold.