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Greg Sellnow — Bring civility to the game, at least off the ice

I received an e-mail last week from a longtime high school sports fan in Rochester who said he’s been offended by the behavior he’s witnessed before, during and after games this year.

The reader, who doesn’t want to be identified by name, said his father taught him to respect the flag, opposing players and the fans around them.

"He taught me to stand in respect and either sing along or at the very least remain quiet, respectful and facing the flag," he wrote. "I must admit I was recently disgusted by the behavior of the JM and Century students who incorporated derogatory cheers and obscene gestures towards the other student body during the national anthem (at a recent hockey game)."

He had many other complaints about fan behavior. Among them:

  • People who refuse to stand during the opposing team’s fight song. (I don’t know that I agree with this. A fight song, after all, is not the national anthem.)
  • Student fan sections shouting derogatory statements at the opposing team’s fans and players.
  • Fans yelling "cry baby" and "whiner" at players who are hurt during the game.
  • Fans who shout demeaning and profane statements at referees.
  • People who park on the lawn, sidewalk and in front of fire hydrants instead of driving an extra 100 yards to a real space in the lot.

"I used to think many of these problems I described were just disrespectful students, but I’ve come to realize that way too many adults are guilty of many of these same things," he continued. "My hope is that if you decide to write an article on this topic that every parent who reads the article would sit down with their children and discuss it with them. Even more, I hope that every parent personally set an example for their children."
Regular readers of this column know how I feel about fan behavior at high school sporting events. Almost exactly two years ago, I got a ton of e-mails from students and adults after I wrote a column about poor fan behavior at the Section One hockey tournament. That behavior included throwing a pickled octopus on the ice, a physical altercation between students from opposing schools and profane cheers and jeers from both kids and adults.

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So, I can understand where this person is coming from. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Century hockey parent.) But I can honestly tell you that I think fan behavior, particularly as it pertains to the student sections, has markedly improved since that 2007 column, at least in Rochester.

I believe this is primarily because the schools have assigned faculty members to help keep the student sections in line. And adult fans seem to be better behaved at games as well.

As for the national anthem, the reader makes a valid point. Players and fans should stand at full attention while it’s being played. And students shouldn’t embellish the anthem with their own words or emphasis. But I also think something needs to be done about the poor-quality recordings of the anthem that are played at some sporting events when the school pep band or a competent vocalist aren’t there to perform a live version.

Kids will be kids. One student does or says something stupid, and others follow. It was that way when I was in high school back in the ox and cart days, and it’s still true today.

But adults do not have the excuse of still-maturing brains. Unfortunately, a few use sporting events as an excuse to release a day’s, week’s or life’s worth of pent up anger and frustration.

The fan who wrote to me finished his e-mail with this:

"Call me old fashioned, but I for one would like to see a little more sportsmanship, respect and civility not only in high school sports but in every day life."

I agree.

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Greg Sellnow ’s columns appear Tuesdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at 285-7703.

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