The National Federation of State High School Assns. decided this year that basketball coaches should be seen but not heard. And they should only be seen sitting politely.
So the federation shaped a national measure--which took effect this season--that has become known as the "bench decorum rule." It instructs referees to issue technical fouls if coaches get out of their seats or direct comments their way. The federation was reacting to incidents--mostly in the East and Midwest--of coaches inciting crowds against officials.
An informal survey of some veteran Southland coaches and officials showed that the rule has affected a few games, but that the coaches, though they abhor the rule, are largely behaving themselves. Most officials are also not calling the regulation strictly.
Coaches are bothered most by the specter of a technical foul being called at a crucial time.
That nightmare happened to Cleveland High Coach Bobby Braswell against Dorsey, when his team held a one-point lead with 30 seconds left. Cleveland was trying to bring the ball inbounds.
"It's a very small gym. There was a lot of yelling and screaming. I'm trying to call a play and the kid with the ball can't see me," Braswell said. "So, I stood up. I didn't take a step, just stood up."
An official responded with a technical foul.
"I was in a state of shock," Braswell said. "For one thing, I had been standing up the whole game and they hadn't called a thing."
The result: Dorsey made both technical foul shots to take a one-point lead, scored on the possession and won the game.
"It's unfortunate. It's a shame," Braswell said. "They took coaching out of high school basketball. I can't instruct these kids sitting down."
Another coach who has been affected is Bosco Tech's Jorge Calienes, who has been hit with technicals three times this year.
Calienes received a technical with 45 seconds remaining in a game Bosco Tech wound up losing to Damien when he went out on the floor to ask the officials a question during a timeout.
"I don't think they themselves know what they're doing," Calienes said of the officials. "It's chaos. I have a young team. I need to be able to talk to them and settle them down. It is taking away from the coaching strategy."
Palos Verdes Coach John Mihaljevich, an inveterate sideline pacer and kneeler, vociferously attacked the rule before the season, claiming it would affect his coaching style. "I'm a roamer. If I sit there with a rolled-up program like John Wooden, my team thinks I've given up," he said in November.
Last week, he admitted it hasn't been as bad as he imagined.
"I've been pleased," he said, "to see most officials basically are saying, 'We're not here to officiate the coaches.' "
The coaches agreed that consistency among referees is a problem, leaving them unsure of how to act.
"Now when I come out, I ask the officials how they'll call it," Braswell said. "The older officials say, 'You can get up and coach. It's a stupid rule.' It's not consistent. One game they don't enforce it, the Dorsey game they enforce it bad. It hurts."
Eugene Perkins, who officiates college as well as high school games, said he instructs partners to be consistent about coaches standing.
"If we let 'em do it at the start, we've got to let 'em do it the whole game," he said. "I haven't called a technical this year. I really haven't had a problem with coaches. There's no reason. They know what's going on. They're not pressing it. I don't think many are enforcing it."
Ken Wilson, a supervisor of officials, explained the rule to a group of coaches before the season, saying, "Officials are expected to enforce it. . . . We don't like it."
Said Coach Harvey Kitani of highly rated Fairfax, "Whenever rules are made, it's because of a few coaches and a few officials. . . . Baseball coaches stand. Football coaches stand and go along the sidelines. I don't see why they're restricting us to sitting.
"I don't think this rule will last."
Glendale Coach Steve Keith, who hasn't been hit with a technical foul this year, said he dislikes the rule, but, "I can see both sides. . . . It's a heavy-handed control for a small minority of coaches who make fools of themselves."
"There are other ways to control the crowd," said Bosco Tech Coach Calienes, who officiated for more than a decade.
Braswell said he called a team meeting after several close losses, including the Dorsey game, and his Cleveland players told him he didn't seem to be as fiery as in the past.
"My kids told me, 'You used to get on us, pump us up a little bit.' They didn't know about the rule," Braswell said. "I told them, 'I can't anymore.' They were shocked.
"I don't know how it passed."