Fan, S or fanatic? |

Fan, S or fanatic?

David Gignilliat, Tribune Staff Writer

As the Nevada 4A state high school basketball tournament approaches its climax during Friday’s final at the Lawlor Events Center in Reno, you can count on three things: there will be winners, there will be losers and many will go home unhappy, including spectators. The play-or-go-home nature of such events gives birth to a high-stakes, exciting brand of basketball. Fans flock to these games in droves, pledging die-hard allegiance to a school or simply following the exploits of a friend, companion or loved one.

But at one the state’s prep sports showcases, what rules will govern the behavior of fans?

“Our philosophy for high school sports is showing respect – for officials, for players, for coaches,” said Dr. Jerry Hughes, Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association executive director. “You treat others how you want to be treated.”

In this vein, high school athletic directors across the state have been working in conjunction with the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association to reiterate and publicize sportsmanship guidelines in what one NIAA manual calls the “worst months for sportsmanship.”

The NIAA has sent out copies of the organization’s sportsmanship manual to Nevada high school athletic administrators and state ADs have taken it upon themselves to re-educate spectators about proper behavior at high school sporting events.

In the Vikings’ winter sports program, a fictional “Letter To A Fan” piece weaves suggestions for parental conduct at games from the perspective of a student-athlete. “Yell for my teammates and me and not us” seems to be one of the main themes of the mock letter. Similar “letters” can be found in the programs of several Nevada schools as well as NIAA-sanctioned leaflets.

“There are always incidents and we want to make sure we’re taking a proactive approach to curtailing them,” said South Tahoe athletic director Frank Kovac. “It’s not only a league-wide, but a state-wide, concern.”

In addition, Kovac has culled some of the guidelines from a Feb. 3 AD meeting and has posted them in the team’s gymnasium and dispersed copies to local media outlets. Regulations include prohibitions on artificial noisemakers, booing of officials, calling players by name or number, finger-pointing directed at players and noncheerleader-initiated chants.

As one might expect, area fans have reacted differently to the guidelines.

“I see where they’re coming from, but I do all of these,” said Justin Nixon, a freshman at South Tahoe and a frequent attendee of Viking basketball games. “That’s why I come to the game. When they take that away, they take away some of the fun of going to a basketball game.”

“I think they’re just kind of going overboard. I mean, it’s not that serious,” said STHS senior Alex Romagnolo, who has played both soccer and basketball at the varsity level for the Vikings. “A lot of my friends play (sports) and they don’t really mind it. Most of them think it’s kind of fun.”

Area schools have certainly been affected this season by the vagaries of fan behavior.

At a Whittell High boys basketball game earlier this season, a parent of one of the Warrior players was ejected from the team’s gym following what one official characterized as “lewd and obscene” behavior. Though the official later retracted his statements to the press, the circumstances seemed to resonate with a passionate South Shore sporting community and direct focus toward acceptable fan conduct.

And, as recently as the Northern 4A zone tournament, South Tahoe cheerleaders were warned during a Feb. 19 semifinal that their hand-waving gestures during a Reed player’s free throw attempts were prohibited.

“Students are a little more accountable than the parents are,” said Rick Worthington, 25, of Elko. “They have to answer to administrators and school officials, but who’s to stop parents from yelling and screaming?”

South Tahoe’s guidelines are not age-specific, targeting parents as well as youth fans.

“I would like to think that parents have a little bit more discretion and judgment – and, by and large they do – but there are a few who don’t,” Kovac said. “Our main goal here is to educate, to let people know what they can and can’t do.”

In many ways, sports fans are as crucial to a game’s viability as the players, coaches and teams themselves. They are sources of revenue, morale, encouragement and pride. Without them, games would be played in empty gyms, arenas or fields. But does the special relationship between spectators and the game give fans the ultimate license to behave irrationally or obnoxiously?

“Those of us who are in the business of education must take it upon ourselves to educate students – and fans, in general – who can’t understand why it’s not OK to boo a player or to call out their name or to question their lineage,” Kovac said.

STHS Fan Guidelines

– Fans shall stay off the playing area during contests and during time-outs

and halftime.

– Only cheerleaders may use megaphone

– No artificial noisemakers are permitted.

– Booing of officials or opponents is not permitted

– Calling to a player by name or number is not permitted

– During free throws in basketball, noise or cheers shall be proactive; no

fan or cheerleader shall use distracting behavior behind the opponents’

basket at any time

– Cheers not initiated by cheerleaders are prohibited

– Pointing cheers are not permitted

NIAA Fan Guidelines (excerpted from the 1998-99 NIAA Sportsmanship Manual):

– Realize that a ticket is a privilege to observe a contest and support high

school activities, not a license to verbally assault others or be generally


– Respect the decisions made by the contest officials

– Be an exemplary role model by positively supporting teams in every manner

possible, including the content of cheers and signs

– Respect the fans, coaches and participants from other schools

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