In Montana, good sportsmanship is not just promoted, it is recognized. No matter what your role is in Montana high school activities – from spectator to administrator to player – good sportsmanship does not go unrewarded.
It is this kind of thinking that has propelled the Montana High School Association’s (MHSA) sportsmanship program for the past 11 years. Partnering with U.S. Bank for the past eight years, the two organizations have teamed to provide awards recognizing good sportsmanship among players, fans and schools on the whole. The program also requires an administrator from each and every member school to attend an in-service clinic on sportsmanship.
MHSA Assistant Director Brian Michelotti said the program has helped raise a significant amount of awareness for sportsmanship across the state.
“With the additional attention given to sportsmanship, we have seen a reduction in the total number of ejections of athletes and coaches in Montana,” he said.
For players, an exhibition of good sportsmanship is designed to be rewarded by the MHSA/U.S. Bank Local Recognition Award.
As often as every game, schools can either select one player or a player from both teams who showed exceptional sportsmanship during the contest. Selected players each receive a medal in a ceremony following the game’s conclusion.
Michelotti said this has been one of the most successful results of the sportsmanship program.
Belgrade (Montana) High School has handed out more than 150 medals in the past two years alone. Activities Director Rick Phillips said the sportsmanship program has been a rewarding part of the athletic experience for students and administrators alike.
“It sends chills through your body when you see the look in their eyes after you explain to them what the medal is for,” he said. “We ask the officials working the event to help us select the recipients, and every officials group has said how happy they are that we’re doing this.”
With U.S. Bank covering all costs, 95 MHSA schools have participated in the program, handing out nearly 10,000 medals in the process.
The MHSA provides those tasked with choosing the deserving player(s) with a set of standards on which to base their judgments. Some of those criteria include treating the opponent and officials with respect, cooperating with coaches and fellow participants, and displaying a positive attitude and pride in one’s school.
Players are not the only ones subject to recognition in Montana. Fans in the stands can also receive notoriety through the Super Fan Award.
“Super Fans” are those who support school activities in ways such as supporting all activity participants, proudly representing their community, promoting good citizenship, and regular long-time attendance at regular and postseason events.
Individual schools can nominate their own “Super Fan,” and a certificate noting this honor will be sent to schools to present to the winners in a manner they see fit. Each recipient will also receive a congratulatory letter from the MHSA.
In total, schools have recognized 107 Super Fans across the state since the 2007-08 school year.
The MHSA also hands out a Montana Super Fan Award at the end of every school year. The association compiles all the nominated fans from every member school over the past year, reviewing each one before selecting a statewide winner for the school year.
Finally, the MHSA promotes a way to remind all of those involved with high school sports that sportsmanship should remain a priority. The MHSA/U.S. Bank Sportsmanship Banner Program sends every member school a banner to encourage “Good Sports” in activities and the community. Schools are asked to hang this banner in a manner that reminds everyone of the importance of sportsmanship.
The association also sends out sportsmanship posters to its schools to help with the promotional efforts. The posters contain reminders regarding the three R’s of sportsmanship: Respect, Responsibility and Recognition.
This program runs without any cost for schools wanting to participate in any of the initiatives.
Ben Sieck was a spring semester intern in the NFHS Publications and Communications Department and is a junior at Butler University in Indianapolis.