In the world of sports fandom, one man’s insult is another man’s no big deal. Unless all cheering is specifically for one’s own team and done in a completely positive way, it’s hard to know what will offend the opponent or the opposing fans. In order to make sure there was no confusion about what was acceptable, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) decided to create a cohesive set of standards and expectations that promoted sportsmanship.
“We saw that there was a great inconsistency among member schools as to how they would treat certain things or what behaviors they would find acceptable or unacceptable,” said Paul Hoey, CIAC assistant executive director. “Some schools would allow students to do things that a lot of other schools felt were disrespectful or unsportsmanlike, and because there was no set of standards for all schools to follow, we decided it was time as an association to sit down and develop those standards.
The CIAC hosted its first annual sportsmanship conference in 2007 and presented its new mission statement (“Sportsmanship is everyone’s responsibility”) and standards to the student-athletes and administrators who had been invited. The attendees were also asked to develop a set of expectations to take back to their own schools. Hoey said it has taken off from there.
“(The conference) has been very successful over the years in terms of generating a lot of interest on the part of the schools, captains and other athletes that get to be a part of the program,” Hoey said. “What it has really turned into is a combination of sportsmanship and student leadership.
“We put great emphasis on developing the leadership skills of our captains to carry forth this whole program and be the people that lead by example with their teammates, parents and others. That has become a major theme of the program.”
Last year, the conference hosted about 700 student-athletes and school administrators. The daylong event features breakout sessions, a luncheon and a keynote speaker. The luncheon includes the presentation of the Michael’s Cup Awards to schools that characterize a quality athletic program.
“We always bring a motivational speaker as part of the program to talk about the expectations that we have for them as student leaders, as captains of their teams,” Hoey said. “We also recognize schools with exemplary athletic programs, those where sportsmanship has become a major component of the school.”
In order to come to a consensus about what is and is not acceptable, Hoey said the CIAC relies on schools to evaluate each other using a questionnaire, or inventory, developed by the association.
“One of the unique things we do as part of this program is every season, we have schools rate each other on sportsmanship,” Hoey said. “The coach meets with the athletes before practice, discusses the inventory, gets feedback from the athletes, fills out the inventory and then posts the results online to our office. Then, we develop a composite rating sheet for each school as well as each conference in the state.
“It’s a way of getting everyone involved and keeping the whole conversation about sportsmanship alive in schools and making the coach responsible for sitting down with his or her team to be able to come up with the ratings.”
Hoey said that this process even helps schools self-evaluate as they think about their own actions during the season as well.
“What we really wanted to see happen here was that the conversation was going on between the students and the coaches within their own school,” Hoey said. “That also helps them self-reflect on the things that they do that may be unsportsmanlike at times.”
One of the things Hoey said he hopes the conference can do is focus more on younger students who can act as their schools’ contacts with the association.
“We’re trying to build a cadre of student leaders throughout the state and bring them in as 10th graders,” Hoey said. “We would have a student contact in every school who would be responsible for helping to promote positive behavior for the student body and to also report to us examples of good sportsmanship that had been displayed, whether at their schools or schools they attend.”
This type of self-reporting component has already begun in Connecticut, as it is in its second year of a Battle of the Fans competition, where students send in videos of the good sportsmanship happening in their schools.
“We’re losing a little bit of that as we go along with too much emphasis on just the game and winning,” Hoey said. “We really want athletics to be part of the school experience for kids and also to lift the climate and atmosphere of the school through involvement in the program.
“As long as we’re having an impact on the student, which is our primary responsibility, we’re very proud of that.”
Juli Doshan is a former member of the NFHS Publications and Communications Department who now lives in the Washington, DC area.