By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
The Ohio High School Athletic Association announced plans on Wednesday to expand on its “Respect the Game” program that was first introduced back in 2004.
The announcement reaffirms that organizations’ commitment to protect and promote sportsmanship across the state and intends to allocate resources to fulfill the expansion.
The “Respect the Game” program was created in 2004 and was the culmination of the OHSAA’s Sportsmanship, Ethics and Integrity Committee, with ideas and input provided by administrators, coaches and student-athletes.
The OHSAA continued to put value in the input provided by member schools and one of the more common recent recommendation included an idea to have a member from each schools’ student sections stand and take the microphone to read a sportsmanship message to the fans before contests this winter.
“Bad fan behavior can ruin a game, and we need to do something about it,” OHSAA Executive Director Doug Ute said.
Ute also serves as the OHSAA’s Basketball Administrator.
“We have met with student-athletes and the message we received is, ‘It’s our game,’ and we need to try to get poor sportsmanship from the bleachers out of the game. We have an officiating shortage in Ohio and the No. 1 reason that officials get out of officiating is the abuse they take from the bleachers. We must create a more positive environment at our athletic contests.”
The OHSAA’s “Respect the Game” website provides schools with resources for school administrators, including public address scripts, updated content for preseason parent meetings, examples of positive behavior as observed by contest officials, responsibilities for various groups, public-service announcements, amongst a list of other things.
Ute believes that having a student delivering a positive message during the pregame has the potential to set a new tone for contests.
“When a student takes the microphone and addresses the gym, everybody listens,” Ute said. “It’s powerful. We hope that adults will listen to what the kids are saying and cheer for their team, not against the officials or the other team. Some schools are doing this already, but we have to do this across the state to make sure high-school sports stay strong for years to come.”
Ultimately, the new measures to promote sportsmanship are also designed to reverse Ohio’s shortage of officials.
“If we don’t have officials, there are no games,” said Ute. “The NFHS (National Federation of High School Associations) identified this as the top concern for high-school sports. The student-athletes we met with said that bad behavior from the fans is embarrassing and sometimes can lead to them not wanting to play. All of us have a role to play in creating positive environments at our schools. This isn’t college or professional athletics. We must do better for our kids.”