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Play nice at school or else, state says Officials' plan seeks better sportsmanship, curbs on misbehavior

Rising concern about brawling, taunting and other unsportsmanlike acts during high school sports competitions is leading the state to pressure schools to try to curb misbehavior among athletes, coaches and fans.

According to a draft copy of a plan being circulated by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, all Maryland high schools must have committees and plans next fall to improve sportsmanship -- or risk being barred from state tournaments.

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The proposal comes as high schools in Maryland and the rest of the country are seeing -- at least anecdotally -- a rising incidence of unsportsmanlike behavior by players and fans that ranges from obscenity-laden taunting to brawls.

Among such incidents in the Baltimore area this school year: An October brawl after a football game between Baltimore's Douglass and Lake Clifton high schools that started after a player allegedly struck a game official involved in an argument with an assistant coach.

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In Howard County, an Oakland Mills High School lacrosse player urinated last month in a water bottle used by Hammond High School's lacrosse team, sickening a coach and two players.

A Baltimore County basketball game in December between Woodlawn and Randallstown high schools was ended at halftime after a fight among fans spilled onto the court and two police officers were attacked.

"There's an element creeping into our spectator arena of gang and territorial problems, and it can't be dealt with only by the athletic directors and coaches," said Pete Pompey, a coach at Baltimore's Edmondson High School. "It's something that has to be worked on by the entire school community, and that's what this plan sounds like it is doing."

The executive director of the state athletic association, Ned Sparks, confirmed recently that the state plans to begin a sportsmanship initiative in the fall but declined to discuss specifics until it is formally announced later this spring.

The poor sportsmanship hasn't been limited to boys' athletics.

Soccer coaches and players in Anne Arundel and Howard counties still talk about a fight in which a South River High School girl punched a Glenelg High School girl in the throat while the teams were exchanging handshakes at the end of a 1994 playoff game -- a punch captured on videotape and broadcast nationwide.

"I think that as girls sports have become more highly competitive in recent years, we're seeing as much poor sportsmanship in their games as we do for the boys," said Donald Disney, Howard County's coordinator for athletics.

The National Federal of State High School Associations -- the main governing body for high school athletics -- has been waging a campaign to improve sportsmanship since 1988 but says the problems are far from over.

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"Have we made some inroads through our activities? We'd like to think so," said Bruce Howard, the federation's publications and communications director. "Are there still a lot of incidents occurring all over the country? Certainly."

Strategies suggested by Maryland's draft proposal include: Require cheerleaders to "promote spirit in their school," but "not in a negative manner incite or promote unsportsmanlike behavior."

Ensure that fans "display appropriate behavior. Inappropriate behavior may include booing, taunting, stomping on bleachers, gestures."

Provide sufficient lighting and security in game and parking lot areas.

Make medical help available for home and visiting teams, and implement safety procedures in case of injuries to athletes, fans, coaches or officials.

Escort visiting teams to buses after games.

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High schools must submit their sportsmanship improvement strategies to district athletics supervisors. "Failure to submit the plan will eliminate your school's participation in regional and state tournament play," the tentative proposal says.

After two years, schools and local athletic supervisors will be required to report progress made toward improving sportsmanship.

"We've got to do something to get people to pay closer attention to sportsmanship," said Bruce Cowen, the athletics supervisor for Carroll County schools. "This is going to do it."

Added Bob Wade, Baltimore's director of interscholastic sports: "I think it's going to help all schools to do a better job of attacking some of the problems. All schools are going to have to sit down and figure out what to do -- and it won't just be coaches and athletic directors, but the whole school community. That's what we need."

Pub Date: 5/19/97



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