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Sportsmanship:

A Call for the 2005 Season

After a year that saw violent incidents taken to new levels in organized sports, 2005 heralds what Hunterdon County Baseball hopes is a new beginning. For all the spectator shenanigans, trash talk among players, and poor examples set by a variety of coaches, particularly at the scholastic and recreation league levels, we can, thankfully, still find instances of respect and dignity on the field. (See Letter to the Editor)

In his October 15, 2004, New York Times article on the National League Championship Series (NLCS) between the Houston Astros and the Saint Louis Cardinals, sportswriter William C. Rhoden wrote, “After a regular season of Red Sox-Yankees bouts…Astros-Cardinals was a relief.” The NLCS was, as Mr. Rhoden refreshingly and wistfully noted, “simply about the game…baseball without anger.”

And so it should be. One would think that if two professional teams can play the national pastime – a league championship series, no less – without incident, then lower level, non-professional teams can do so as well. More to the point, when we see professional teams honoring the integrity of the game, is that not the lesson that we want our youth to take from watching their heroes perform on television?

To long-time observers of youth sports, the answer to that question becomes somewhat complex, especially given the rash of unsportsmanlike acts that we continue to witness, both in televised games and then emulated at the local school and recreation levels (see HCB Fall 2004, pages 23-25). In a June 3, 2001, story published in the Trenton Times, Tim Dahlberg of the Associated Press reported that, “From parents brawling at a T-ball game in Florida, while 4 and 5 year-old children watched, to a father beaten to death at a hockey game in Massachusetts, the violence is spreading.”

From verbal assaults to physical threats, the violence has indeed spread. So much so that the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) has, since 1997, called annual summits of school administrators, athletic directors, coaches, and players from across the state to address the ever-worsening issue. The 2004 summit took place at the Pines Manor in Edison, New Jersey, and was attended by more than 350 concerned sports enthusiasts.

Entitled simply the “NJSIAA Sportsmanship Summit,” the event produced a 43-page document that provides a blueprint for schools, leagues, players, coaches, and spectators everywhere to follow in preserving the healthier aspects of organized, youth competition. Thoroughly researched, the document is available in print form as well as compact disk. The print version occupies a two-inch, three-ring, loose-leaf binder and contains numerous article reprints and other handouts for ease of reference, photocopying, and distribution.

Beginning with a Mission Statement that makes the case for sportsmanship, NJSIAA’s Sportsmanship Manual lists six Fundamentals of Sportsmanship, ten Guidelines for Behavior aimed at everyone from athletic directors to the media, a sample Sportsmanship Attitude Check List, and suggested letters for publication in student newspapers and for sending to parents and various student groups.

The Sportsmanship Manual even includes recommended public address and public service announcements, as well as radio and television advertisements. Together with written statements from school administrators, professional team owners, and league officials, the Sportsmanship Manual is a must-have document for schools, leagues, players, coaches, and spectators at all levels of competition, in every sport. Parts of it appear here in HCB with the permission of Jim Loper, Associate Director of the NJSIAA.

NJSIAA staff member, Bob Baly, organizes the Sportsmanship Summit and vigorously promotes the organization’s commitment to the cause of sportsmanship. So popular and urgent has the theme of sportsmanship become, that Bob sees an increasing relationship now to the development of youth leadership on the issue. Complementing the Sportsmanship Summit, therefore, NJSIAA will also conduct Art of Leadership training for young athletes. Future plans call for the Sportsmanship Summit and the Art of Leadership training to take place in alternating years.

After conducting seven consecutive, annual Sportsmanship Summits, look then for the NJSIAA to schedule its first youth leadership conference in 2005. HCB will provide additional details as they become available.

In the meantime, included in this issue of HCB, at the conclusion of this article, are copies of the previously referenced documents for schools and leagues to use throughout the year, along with a recommendation for the most influential and beneficial use of each. Jim Loper of the NJSIAA and HCB invite our readers to reproduce any and all of these documents for the widest distribution possible:

Attitude Check List – May accompany the Fundamentals handout and/or comprise a two-page package handout on game day with the Spectator Ground Rules.

Fundamentals of Sportsmanship – Distribute to coaches and players at the beginning of each season in every sport. Players should then share these Fundamentals with their parents and other family members who will attend their games during the scholastic and recreation league seasons.

Guidelines for Behavior – Include these guidelines with the Fundamentals handout. Excerpt individual sections as needed for each intended audience.

Letters – Distribute and mail as appropriate on school, league, or association letterhead. (Samples available upon request by calling HCB at 609-397-9418 or the NJSIAA at 609-259-2776 or just Contact NJB through this web site)

Spectator Ground Rules – A crucially important welcome note that all spectators should receive upon their arrival at each sporting event, at every level.

Public Address Announcements – A comprehensive set of cordial reminders appropriate for any level of competition, at any game site. Advised for use by all schools and recreation leagues where public address facilities exist and are in use at each game. (Samples available upon request by calling HCB at 609-397-9418 or the NJSIAA at 609-259-2776 or just Contact NJB through this web site)

HCB strongly recommends and hopes that schools and leagues will use NJSIAA’s Sportsmanship Manual as their model for encouraging the best that administrators, coaches, spectators, and our young athletes can display on the field of athletic competition.

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