Sportsmanship is a continually changing aspect of athletics. It seems that in order to combat the latest bad behavior that arises from parents, fans and players, sportsmanship efforts have to keep shifting and improving. But after a few years, how can they be kept from being stagnant? One state association has managed to keep its sportsmanship program fresh after more than a decade in place by continually raising the bar and asking for more from its student-athletes.
Last year was the inaugural year for the newest idea from the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) to boost sportsmanship in its state. The Battle for the Golden Megaphone features schools competing to be the best student section in Ohio.
“As the administrator for the sport of basketball across Ohio, it is incumbent upon me to make every effort to improve sporting behaviors while giving recognition to those that are displaying excellent sportsmanship,” said Jerry Snodgrass, assistant commissioner of the OHSAA. “Student cheer groups generally have unofficial student leaders that organize and direct students in the types of cheers.
“We wanted to call attention to these leadership skills that are being used for positive support for student-athletes.”
Schools submitted pictures and videos of their student section at a boys or girls basketball game on Twitter or Instagram and labeled it with #OHSAASports and #GoldenMegaphone. The five submissions with the most likes and retweets were selected as finalists in the competition and received a visit by OHSAA staff during a game. The ultimate champion, Buckeye Valley High School, was chosen by the OHSAA and recognized during the boys state basketball tournament.
“This was an incredible program and one that took off far more than we expected in its first year,” Snodgrass said. “We strongly feel that we made great strides in a short period of time changing the culture of high school basketball fans – possibly more than we have done in many previous years combined.”
The Battle for the Golden Megaphone is just the latest in a long line of sportsmanship initiatives that make up the OHSAA’s Respect the Game program. The program was created in 2004 by the association’s Sportsmanship, Ethics and Integrity (SEI) Committee and incorporated ideas from Ohio student-athletes, coaches and administrators.
The SEI Committee annually awards the Respect the Game Challenge award, the Harold A. Meyer Award and the Commissioner’s Award for Exceptional Sportsmanship to deserving schools that have emphasized sportsmanship, ethics and integrity throughout the year. The three-tier award system, in which schools can only earn each award after achieving the previous award, ensures that schools are continually growing their sportsmanship efforts.
Award winners of the Respect the Game Challenge are presented with a banner to be displayed in their school gym. Then, the Harold A. Meyer Award, named after a former commissioner of the OHSAA, can be earned after schools submit a PowerPoint presentation detailing their sportsmanship program. Finally, the Commissioner’s Award, which is awarded to no more than six schools per year, requires the submission of an essay by a student outlining what makes his or her school great and its sportsmanship program unique. If a school has had an ejection for unsporting conduct at any time during the year, it cannot win the Commissioner’s Award.
Reminding students that high school athletics is important and should be valued is one of the main facets of Respect the Game.
“We provide resources to all of our member schools to assist them with establishing guidelines for dealing with parents, booster groups, student groups, etc.,” said Roxanne Price, OHSAA assistant commissioner.
The OHSAA provides a pregame public-address statement to be read before each game that focuses on showing courtesy to fellow fans, officials, coaches, administrators and each team. It has also developed a fan fair play code that encourages fans to cheer for their own team, instead of cheering against the opponent.
“We attempt to instill in game-day announcers that they need to be professional in the way games are announced and to not be cheerleaders for one of the teams competing,” Price said. “The theme of the announcements can be summed up in our much-used phrase, ‘Speak with Courtesy, Act with Dignity and Play with Pride.’”
In order to reinforce the message of sportsmanship throughout the state, the OHSAA has recorded several public-service announcements encouraging sportsmanship. Throughout the years, names like Clark Kellogg, Marty Brennaman and Archie Griffin have lent their voices to these PSAs.
Juli Doshan is the graphic arts technician/editorial assistant in the NFHS Publications and Communications Department.