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Laying down law for poor sports

County athletes, coaches, ADs welcome guidelines to enforce proper conduct.

By KRISTEN LEIGH PORTER
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 20, 2002


Kacie Henderson knows about sportsmanship.

While going after a ball during a volleyball match this season, the Lecanto senior fell and rammed her head into the referee stand. To her surprise, one of the Central High players came under the net, grabbed Henderson and asked if she was okay.

"That made it so much better," Henderson said. "I think that's the nicest thing that someone's done because usually other teams don't care what happens to you. My own team didn't even see if I was okay."

Henderson found herself on the opposite end of the spectrum while playing as a freshman at Navarre.

A member of the opposing squad was furious at a referee's call, and threw a ball at Henderson's face. The player was kicked out of the game.

"I guess it wasn't toward me, but she threw it and it hit me," Henderson said. "She chucked it at my face. Just bam, in my face. She was just a poor sport."

The issue of sportsmanship is receiving plenty of attention lately.

The National Federation of State High School Associations deemed today National Be A Sport Day: a time to encourage awareness and discussion about the importance of sportsmanship, ethics and integrity in interscholastic sports.

Citrus County has taken steps to promote these ideals. On Oct. 9, the School Board approved an Athletic Programs Protocol to spell out behavior expectations for coaches, players and fans.

County supervisor of athletics Ed Staten was part of a development committee that included the three high school athletic directors and School Board, parent and official representatives. The group contacted counties such as Pinellas and Marion, which have such guidelines in place, to determine what would suit county needs.

"I don't think there's anything in there that is unusual or different than what anybody would expect out of the behavior of their people," Staten said.

How the new protocol will be enforced is unclear, because it carries no penalties beyond what the Florida High School Activities Association mandates.

Crystal River athletic director Earl Bramlett, who racked up 231 wins as a football coach, said just having guidelines should make a difference.

"You say these things and ask them not to do it and you go through your policies and procedures," Bramlett said. "Sometimes it goes through one ear and out the other, and what we want to do is just emphasize it and put it in writing."

* * *

The protocol reinforces the notion that coaches are educators.

Coaches are supposed to be role models. Just as a science teacher would not be allowed to scream at a student who accidentally ruins an experiment, a coach is not permitted to do the same to a player for dropping a pass.

Citrus activities director Vicki Overman, who coached four sports, said there is a lot of pressure on coaches, who often display more emotion on the sidelines than in the classroom. Citrus volleyball coach Pam Woznicki agrees.

"Emotions start flaring," Woznicki said. "But somewhere along the line you've got to put it in perspective and remain professional in your composure and remember that you're always role models."

That goes for coaches who are not teachers as well.

One of the reasons for the new rules is that some coaches do not work for the school system and are not subject to the same code of ethics as teachers. All Citrus High head coaches are teachers somewhere in the county, but there are four assistants not affiliated with the school system. All of Crystal River's head coaches work for the county schools, and Lecanto has one coach who does not.

"You've got coaches who are not teachers, so really the need existed just to have a generic code of conduct for anyone that's coaching your kids," Overman said.

Lecanto athletic director and football coach Dick Slack said the protocol is standard procedure but can be a resource for new coaches.

"Everything that comes up, we try to learn from it and we try to implement it in our program," Slack said. "So we have a very extensive coaches handbook already that covers virtually every situation."

The new rules remind coaches and players to avoid the use of foul or profane language.

Staten, a former Citrus principal, said he expected no swearing on the sidelines or playing field, but admits that is hard to enforce for coaches and players.

"In the real world, we know there are some things that slip once in a while, and this isn't put out there to hang somebody if somebody slips," Staten said.

* * *

Coaches are not the only ones affected.

The code of conduct states that student-athletes must treat all teammates, coaches, opponents, event organizers and spectators with respect. Players should refrain from the use of physical force outside the rules of the game, and be generous in winning and graceful in losing.

Crystal River football player Ryan McNally has been there when opposing players would spit or refuse to shake hands. The senior said his coaches have told players how to deal with such situations.

"They never want you to retaliate because the second man always gets caught and secondly because it's not the right thing to do," McNally said. "How is that going to accomplish anything by being a jerk or by getting mad at somebody? ... All you can do is just hold your temper and just relax."

Game officials can eject a coach and player for unsportsmanlike conduct under FHSAA rules. The person ejected would face a suspension and fine, depending on the severity.

Slack said at Lecanto the coach must pay his or her own fine. The other schools have similar policies.

"As far as kids are concerned, any time a kid is ejected they have to meet with myself and (principal) Kelly Tyler and discuss what happened and strategies and ways to make sure it does not happen again," Slack said. "Then we send a letter to the FHSAA saying that we did meet with the kid."

* * *

The new guidelines do not come with any new penalties. But the FHSAA has standardized its rules to hold coaches to the same standard as players.

Until last year, a player's potential suspension was more severe than a coach's, but now both are eligible for up to a six-week suspension from athletic events. There is a fine involved, which Crystal River football coach Jere DeFoor says has made a difference.

"I believe with the number of fines and going to the six weeks, I think it has curbed some things," DeFoor said. "But in the heat of the moment sometimes, a fine or anything like that is not the first thing on your mind."

Ejections are down in Citrus County, following a statewide trend. Whether the new protocol continues that remains to be seen.

"In many cases, you get what you expect," Overman said. "You go out there and expect proper behavior and you get it."

-- Kristen Leigh Porter can be reached at porter@sptimes.com or 564-3628.

THE PROTOCOL

COACH CODE OF CONDUCT

Coaches shall:

1.1 Recognize that school sport is an extension of the classroom, with moral and legislative obligations required of the coach at all times.

1.2 Comply with the regulations, policies and procedure of the Florida State High School Activities Association and the Citrus County School Board.

1.5 Respect the judgment and interpretation of officials and require student-athletes to do the same. The coach shall not engage in conduct which would incite players or spectators against the officials.

1.6 Not use foul, profane, harassing or offensive language or gestures in the conduct of coaching duties.

STUDENT-ATHLETE CODE OF CONDUCT

Student-athletes shall:

2.1 Treat everyone with respect.

2.2 Exercise self-control at all times.

SPECTATOR CODE OF CONDUCT

Spectators must:

3.1 Treat everyone with respect.

3.2 Exercise self-control at all times.

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