A Banner Effort At Sportsmanship

A look at Fosston High's comprehensive plan.

By Staff

Athletic Management, 14.3, April/May 2002, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1403/bbsportsmanship.htm

At the Minnesota Class A girls' volleyball tournament last fall, fans of the Fosston High School team started to get a little out of hand. Their yells turned negative, at least by Fosston standards, and were sprinkled with some boos.

The spectators were quickly hushed, not by administrators or officials, but by the players on the court. The players said, 'No, you can't do that. We won't get a banner,'" says Assistant Athletic Director Diane Anderson.

The banner in question depicts a girl passing a volleyball beneath the words "Be A Good Sport," and is awarded by the Minnesota State High School League to teams who show good sportsmanship at season-ending tournaments among players, coaches, and fans. "The players really appreciate those things," says Fosston Athletic Director Tom Gravalin. "It really does matter, I think."

It "really matters" to Fosston athletes because administrators have worked hard to make sportsmanship a priority at the school. They've done this not so much through one program or idea, but by concentrating on all the small elements that go into developing good sports.

Although a small school without a history of any major crowd problems, Gravalin says Fosston has experienced its share of poor sportsmanship, and several years ago started to address the issue. Last fall, when the MSHSL announced that schools hoping to win a banner had to develop a sportsmanship-promotion plan at the beginning of the year, Fosston put the initiatives it had started into a comprehensive agenda. The program was highlighted in the MSHSL's winter Bulletin.

Fosston's plan takes ideas from many places, including the MSHSL, but the key is that all elements work together and everyone is on the same page.

The program starts with a code of conduct for certain groups, including the school board, principals, activities directors, coaches, student participants, spectators, cheerleaders, bands, officials, and the media. For example, the media is asked to report good behavior without giving undue publicity to unsportsmanlike conduct, refrain from making negative comments toward people involved, report without impartiality to either team, and recognize efforts of all athletes, male and female.

"We're not leaving somebody out, and everybody has to be responsible for their actions," Anderson says. "This way we are all covered, whether it's a kid, an adult, or a fan."

Examples of acceptable and unacceptable behavior are also included, as are three sample pre-game announcements, which are short and to the point. One says: "One of the goals of high school athletics is learning lifetime values. Sportsmanship is one such value that makes these games an educational experience. Remember to sport a winning attitude! And now, let's meet the starting lineups ..."

Another key, Gravalin says, is a 10-minute cooling-off period after contests. The period was put in place a few years ago after problems with a parent upset over playing time, but the buffer time helps deal with other issues as well.

"As soon as the game is over, players and coaches get their stuff and head right into the locker room," Gravalin says. "If there is a problem after the game with the officials or players or whatever, it gives everybody a chance to cool off.

"It gives them some time to think," he continues. "The coach can help the players through any emotions they're having before they go out and talk to their parents and the other fans."

A more obvious display of expectations is seen on a 3-by-8 foot sign, donated by a local business, which is mounted below the scoreboard in the gym. The sign bears the logo and slogan of the MSHSL's "Be A Good Sport" program superimposed over an image of a running greyhound, Fosston's mascot.

"Every time you look up at the score, you're going to see 'Be A Good Sport' at the same time," says Anderson. "If you don't hear or see that message, and it's out of sight and out of mind, you tend to get off track a little bit when things aren't going your way. We're just hoping that each little thing we put up there will help."

Fosston has also shown that competitive coaches can follow sportsmanship rules. While winning last season's state title in volleyball and the last two state crowns in girls' basketball, coaches have not neglected the sportsmanship initiative. In fact, Gravalin credits the coaches with setting standards for players and fans that have kept things in check.

"If you have problems with sportsmanship, I think it starts with the coach," Gravalin says. "They can turn fans ugly in a hurry, like when their hands go up in the air on an official's call. They make a big difference in sportsmanship."

Now, student-fans are trained so that even a glance from a coach or administrator usually settles things down. "We don't have to do it as much anymore," Gravalin says. "Once you get the program going, it gets a lot easier. It's like anything else that's new. It's tough the first couple of years, but after that it's not too bad."