Coming soon to a high school near you ... a boo ban? Washington State says maybe.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association is thinking about banning booing and offensive chants by high school sport watching fans. To date, it has not made an official ruling, but the association has discussed guidelines meant to crack down on what they are calling "negative conduct".
Some of the state's top coaches believe a 'boo ban' is extreme. "They're kidding, right?" asked Rainier Beach High School boys basketball coach Mike Bethea. "I can see stopping someone if they're saying derogatory remarks, but not letting people boo? Come on."
Association officials say that the number of people willing to be coaches and officials is dropping dramatically because of abuse they get from fans. They also say that the sportsmanship guidelines will remind fans to cheer for their team and not against the other.
"I don't know why people think it's acceptable to boo in the first place," WIAA Executive Director Mike Colbrese said. "It's a pretty novel concept to me."
Specific rules on booing are "all in draft stages", Colbrese said. "It's a much broader topic than just booing," he said. "What we're trying to teach our fans is that you have to be civil. Just because you bought a ticket you can't be irresponsible or disrespectful."
The association does not allow negative commentary about officiating before, during or after any interscholastic activity or athletic event. "Constructive criticism or comments are always welcomed," the organization's handbook states, "and should be made available through the proper channels (verbally or in writing) directly to the person(s) involved and/or their immediate supervisors."
Schools and their employees who are in violation of this policy are subject to penalties, including fines or forfeits.
"I don't know how you would enforce it," Kentridge athletic director Eric Anderson said. "Of course we encourage sportsmanship, but sometimes the kids will test the waters. There are times when even I have to bite my tongue."
Bethea says that not all fans who attend high school games would even know about the specific rules and it would be ridiculous to penalize the players or schools.
"Booing is part of the game," he said. "That's what gets people hyped up and changes the momentum of a game. If they won't let people boo at a basketball game, what's next?"
At a boys and girls state basketball tournament that finishes up today with the championship game, the association has circulated handouts to all schools participating in the tournament that outlined specific sportsmanship policies.
Pompoms with text printed on them and artificial noisemakers are not allowed. Printed foam fingers are also banned. Only the official school banner may be in the stands; no other signs are allowed.
Adam Barrett, a girls basketball coach, praised the association for trying to create a more positive environment but he said that an excess of "specific spirit rules" might deter school pride.
"What happened to the days when students threw toilet paper around in the stands or held up newspapers when the opposing team was introduced?" asked Barrett, whose league doesn't allow students to paint their full faces for games. "That's part of the fun of high school sports and having school pride."