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Rules to keep parent fans in line

After a fatal fight near Boston last year, schools are enforcing rules to punish spectators who are rude, crude or pushy.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 9, 2001

TAMPA -- Skip Weintraub admits he's gotten too upset at his son's Jefferson High School baseball games. Wrapped up in the contest and stressed about winning, he has even said a few angry words to coaches and umpires that he has regretted afterward.

"It's a fine line," Weintraub said Wednesday night as he peered through the fence, watching his son, Jason, pitch against Blake High School. "Parents usually take on more of the frustration than the kids."

Knowing that, Weintraub has no problem with new rules aimed at controlling unruly fans and parents at all sporting events beginning this fall, be it the foul-mouthed, the pushy or the crude. He just wants fairness.

"It's good to keep the integrity of the game," said Weintraub, a coach for 15 years and owner of Baseball Card Clubhouse, a card shop in Town 'N Country.

The Hillsborough school district came up with its unruly spectator rules in the wake of a fatal fight between two hockey dads outside Boston last year, and amid growing concerns over school violence and a general lack of civility.

"It's just a sign of the times," said Amelia Lubrano, Blake's assistant principal.

Pinellas County is considering a specific unruly fans policy that could take effect next school year, but it currently allows athletes, coaches and fans who are ejected from sporting events to be fined. No specific procedures are in place in Pasco County, but the school district's supervisor of athletics, Kit Broadbelt, said, "We are watching, we are looking. It needs to be addressed."

The unruly fan rules in Hillsborough County outline how unsportsmanlike spectators will be punished, and the district has launched a publicity campaign to promote proper behavior. Signs encouraging self-control will be posted at fields, stadiums and gymnasiums around the county. Announcements will be made before and during games asking fans to show respect.

The rules don't specifically spell out what constitutes unruly behavior. But the Hillsborough County Athletic Guidebook of Procedures defines it as "profanity, fighting, flagrant foul, or other unsportsmanlike acts." It includes threatening a game official, spitting on an opponent and fighting with the opposing team.

The new rules come on the heels of another Hillsborough policy that began this school year in which athletes and coaches can be fined for unsportsmanlike conduct. The Florida High School Activities Association decided last summer to fine schools for their athletes' behavior.

Jim Pullin, Gaither High School's athletic director, said fans are disruptive at times and problems are handled as they occur.

But regarding the new rules, "It never hurts to let people know what you expect from them," he said.

If fans act up, a school administrator or police officer at the game will warn them to stop. But if the behavior continues, unruly spectators will be arrested, if necessary, or asked to leave. And if the misconduct worsens, fans can be prohibited from attending all athletic events in the future.

The district's athletic director, Vernon Kohrn, said the rules give "teeth to what already is being done. More importantly, it is a positive approach to good sportsmanlike conduct."

School Board member Carolyn Bricklemyer suggested the rules in response to the fight in Massachusetts, which resulted in a father being charged with manslaughter.

That's an extreme scenario, said Hillsborough secondary education director Sherrie Sikes, who was on the committee of students, parents and administrators that drafted the procedures. Here, she said, "Most of the parents are just wonderful. They come to events to enjoy their children and see them play."

Lubrano said one of the most important rules students learn in high school is good sportsmanship.

"I can't think of anything that sets a worse example for that than an unruly parent," she said.

Several parents at the Jefferson and Blake baseball game recalled stories where coaches and parents misbehaved and disrupted the sporting events where their children were playing.

"I've been at games where they've had to get the cops," said Jim Colvin, whose grandson plays baseball for Blake. "You gotta act decent. I mean, it's only a game."

-- Melanie Ave can be reached at (813) 226-3473 or melanie@sptimes.com.

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