To the High School Athlete:
It was a tough week for the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association. In a memo sent to member schools the WIAA encouraged administrators address unsportsmanlike chants from student sections and to “take immediate steps to correct this unsporting behavior”. If they were to stop there I think things would have been fine. We are all behind administrators addressing unsportsmanlike behavior in our student section when it crosses the line. However, the WIAA went on to cite specific chants such as “airball” and “you can’t do that”. Though these are directed at an individual, as a school administrator, I don’t find them to be unsportsmanlike. So, I understand where the WIAA was coming from and don’t entirely disagree with their perspective, but the reference to specific chants changed the whole argument. It also prompted ESPN personalities to bring up the topic, specifically Scott Van Pelt’s One Big Thing. They have since come out with a statement that encourages schools to enforce their own policy regarding behavior at sporting events, which is definitely the correct move. The original letter prompted student groups across the state to protest in various ways, from duct taping their mouths to sitting in silence. To date, these protests have not happened here and I don’t think they will. Our kids understand that we have no issue with “airball” and “you can’t do that”. They also know where the line is and we have a tremendous amount of trust in them as young adults to not cross it.
The life of a student athlete is hard. Your schedule is tighter and you have more eyes on you every day. You are questioned for choices you make on and off the court and people expect more from you because you perform in a public venue. You are prone to scrutiny for decisions you make in front of hundreds, sometimes thousands of people. People wait all week to see you perform and their mood the following day has a lot to do with how you play. Opposing schools troll your facebook and twitter feeds to learn more about you. Opposing parents make judgements about your character based on what they see for 40-60 minutes, sometimes less than twice a year. It is definitely hard. But...remember...there is the other side to being a student athlete. People also come out to see you perform. They cheer. They scream your name. They stand up when you do something extraordinary. They clap until their hands hurt, they scream until there is no voice left, and they high five each other in the stands when you do well.
The original letter from the WIAA also prompted student athletes to take to social media and display their feelings on the issue. Some of those posts included vulgarities that violate most athletic codes. Kids absolutely have the right to express their feelings in any medium they see fit, but as with adults, there could be consequences for those actions. We can disagree with a process and voice that in a constructive manner with no consequence. I can disagree with a school board decision. If I tweet my displeasure there could be varying levels of consequence. Tweeting that I disagree with a decision vs. telling them to Eat Excrement land me in very different places regarding my employment here. Every year we sit down with our student athletes and talk with them about social media and their digital footprint. When you tweet, post, snap, or even retweet...you own the responsibility of that content. All eyes have the opportunity to be on that post and student athletes need to know that. Having said that...they are kids and they make mistakes. We need to honor that and help them move forward without making them feel alienated. A conversation and opportunity to rectify a situation will mean more to a student than a suspension. Two of our kids were interviewed on the local news and I could not have been more proud of their response on WEAU. They know the impact they have on younger kids. Our building is PreK-12 under one roof. Our elementary kids see our athletes walking down the hallways during the day and then on a court after school. They cheer, they high five, they scream. Most importantly...they stare. They literally stare at our HS kids like they are Gods and Goddesses. They imitate their moves on the floor. They reenact what happens on the floor in the hallways and on playgrounds. They want to wear that jersey. They want to be that tall. They want to be that fast. They WANT to be them. I am astounded by the looks our HS kids get from 5 and 6 year olds as they walk through the building. I am equally astounded by the response by our HS kids and proud to be part of a community that gets it. We are in this thing together...We are Fall Creek. Go Crickets.