Warning Cards Come to Ohio

By Staff

Coaching Management, 14.3, March 2006, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1403/bbwarningcards.htm

The yellow card is a traditional warning to curb rough play on a playing field. But in some places, it’s also a caution for fan misbehavior.

At Springfield High School in Akron, Ohio, Athletic Director Ray Fowler began giving out yellow warning cards for over-the-line spectator behavior during the 2004-05 basketball season. The 3x5 cards are printed with the message: “We appreciate your attendance at our events. Our participants need your positive support and encouragement. Abusive behavior toward players, coaches, or officials will not be tolerated. If your behavior continues, you will be asked to leave.”

The advantage of the cards, says Fowler, is that they make spectators think about their behavior without being confrontational. “They give fans an opportunity to realize what they’re doing, and gives you a chance to observe them,” he says. “If somebody doesn’t want to take the card, we still consider them warned.”

Fowler got the idea during a fishing trip with a fellow athletics administrator from Wisconsin. The conversation turned to poor sportsmanship, and Fowler’s buddy mentioned a carding program being used in neighboring Minnesota. Fowler called the Minnesota State High School League, which encouraged him to borrow the idea. A similar procedure is also followed in Maine.

Springfield has since expanded yellow-carding to all sports. The system is explained to student-athletes and parents before each sport season and reviewed at parents’ preseason meetings. Last year, word of the cards spread through the community, Fowler found, and most spectators became aware of them. “It’s kind of like that slap on your hand you don’t want to get,” he says.

Only three times during the first season did Fowler use a card. Each time, the spectator reined in the poor behavior, and each time the fan was an adult, not a student. It’s the job of the administrator in charge of game management, not police or security, to hand out the cards, since the idea is to head-off the need to involve those authorities.

When encountering an unruly fan, Fowler recommends that administrators try to be as unobtrusive as possible. “You’re not confronting the person as much as just handing them the card,” he says. “You simply walk up to them, give them a card, and walk away.”

The cards are especially effective during basketball, when the indoor, intimate nature of the game seems to magnify poor fan behavior. “At a basketball game fans are up close and personal,” Fowler says. “It’s a natural place to have warnings. You’re indoors, and that makes a difference. And people who go to basketball games have a tendency to get a little riled up.”