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Schools to rein in ugly side of sports

The Athletic Programs Protocol will establish the district's guidelines for the behavior of athletes, coaches and spectators.

By BARBARA BEHRENDT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 6, 2002


INVERNESS -- The screaming fans blasting the opposing team, the obnoxious hand gestures, the killer glares at referees who don't see things the way the coach does -- all these are among the time-honored traditions of high school sporting events.

But those staples could become things of the past on Citrus fields and courts.

School officials have put the finishing touches on the Athletic Programs Protocol, a code of conduct of sorts for coaches, players and spectators, which would affect all schools.

The document was developed at the request of the School Board after several Citrus High School parents complained at the end of the last school year that their sons had been made to run sprints until they became sick and passed out.

The complaints sparked a larger discussion about the need for a countywide set of rules that would take the nastiness out of sporting events and practices.

School Board members have reviewed the document, and superintendent David Hickey said last week that he would soon distribute it to schools. Developed through a committee made up of a board member, school athletic directors, parents and a representative of the referees' association, the protocol includes three pages of specific direction.

The coach portion of the document reminds them that athletes are students first so that they "shall recognize that school sport is an extension of the classroom, with moral and legislative obligations required of the coach at all times."

The policy urges coaches to respect the judgment of officials, treat all participants fairly, uphold the rules of the sport and avoid encouraging students to attend a particular school in order to participate in sports.

Foul, profane, harassing or offensive language or gestures are also prohibited, and coaches are urged to abstain from using tobacco products or alcohol while involved in coaching activities and to encourage their athletes to do the same.

Coaches are also to place the safety and welfare of students above all other considerations. Previously the School Board debated and finally agreed to buy wet-bulb thermometers to help coaches gauge when heat and humidity are putting athletes at risk.

For student athletes, the code of conduct encourages respect, self-control, playing within the rules of the game and watching out for their own health and safety and that of their teammates.

Spectators are advised to "cheer in a positive manner," respect officials, be courteous, avoid profanity and refrain from using physical force.

"This is a good starting point," said School Board member Sandra "Sam" Himmel. "This will at least encompass all of the coaches."

Part of the reason the board supported the development of the code was that while teachers who are coaches are governed by the Educators Code of Ethics and the rules of the Florida High School Activities Association, nonschool employees who coach have no formal code of conduct, Himmel said.

"I don't think things will change that much, but I think that when you sign the code of conduct, you'll be more aware of what is expected of you as a coach," Himmel said. "I do not think our coaches are out of control now."

Himmel quipped that the code for spectators might have been developed especially for her. She describes herself as "enthusiastic to the extreme" when cheering on her team. Still, she said there is no room for negative cheering, and she is glad to see that discouraged in the code.

"Spectators do not need to be screaming and yelling negative comments to the kids," she said.

"I hate it when parents are yelling "Get the ball!' What do they think their kid is trying to do? They do not go out for a pass or up for a layup planning to not be successful."

Each coach will be given a copy of the code and will sign as having received it. All athletes and parents will be required to sign the document as part of the permission process, and the spectator portion will be placed in programs, distributed at events and displayed at athletic locations.

-- Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or 564-3621.

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