Putdowns and punch-outs take place every year in high school sports. Jibes from the stands to officials, coaches and players are a seemingly inherent part of the game.
Despite some recent high-profile incidents, this school year isn't that much different from any other, Southern Section and City Section officials say. Players taunt each other, coaches harangue officials, someone throws a punch. . . . Still, it may not be as bad as it appears.
"It's getting better, but it will never be perfect," Southern Section Commissioner Dean Crowley said. "We must still make strides to enhance the game. We must teach players, coaches and fans that how they conduct themselves is more important than winning."
The Southern Section, which includes 505 member schools, formed a Sportsmanship Committee in 1994 and instituted the ejection rule--athletes ejected from a game must also sit out the next.
The committee created ethics codes for athletes and coaches. All student-athletes must sign the code, which has a last line that reads, "Win with character, lose with dignity." That sentence is not included in the coaches' code.
Nearly every league has a sportsmanship award and some leagues hold sportsmanship symposiums. A section-wide sportsmanship symposium that would have involved more than 2,000 students was planned for last fall, but it fell through at the last minute when the site became unavailable. The section hopes to make it an annual event.
The 62-member City Section also has an ejection rule and code of ethics that players and coaches are required to sign. In addition, the Los Angeles Unified School District annually stages a Student Athletic Leadership Conference in September. The one-day conference is attended by team captains and includes a general session and smaller workshops.
"I would say things are better, in a general sense, than they have ever been," City Section Commissioner Barbara Fiege said. "Ten or 12 years ago, we had numerous incidents.
"The schools and conferences are doing a good job of decreasing the negative nature of rivalries and making them friendlier instead of antagonistic."
Southern Section spokesman Thom Simmons said incident reports, usually involving altercations, have been reduced 25%-30% the last three years, and ejections are down 15%-20%. "Coach ejections are way down," Simmons said, "but we're still concerned about player ejections."
In the final game of last week's seven-game Dream Classic at Pauley Pavilion, for example, three players from Compton and three from Crenshaw were ejected after an altercation on the court that brought players from both teams off their benches.
But being a bad sport isn't confined to players and coaches.
"I'm much more concerned these days about what's happening in the stands than I am in the courts and fields of play," said Dr. Russ Gough, professor of ethics at Pepperdine and author of "Character is Everything: Promoting Ethical Excellence in Sports."
Mike Murphy, boys' basketball coach at La Habra Sonora, said that crowd behavior at high school games, from taunting to heckling, trickles down from the professional levels.
"The fans," Murphy said, "are worse now than ever before."
Brea Olinda girls' basketball player Lindsey Davidson said that whenever her team plays, "It's like the whole world is against you."
Ron Inman, athletic director at Garden Grove Bolsa Grande, said incidents involving crowds and their treatment of officials are a product of the times, television and the high cost of a college education.
"One of the major problems is there are a lot of parents who think their son or daughter is going to get a Division I scholarship," he said. "Heaven help the official who is going to take that opportunity away."
Though sportsmanship may not be what we expect all the time, it is not dead.
"Sportsmanship is very much alive and well in many quarters of amateur sports," Gough said. "What we're seeing among sports fans is not all that unique to sports. It's just another unfortunate example of the no-place-for-second-place attitude that's plaguing our culture."
Unfortunately, that attitude sometimes spills onto the court.
There were two examples of poor sportsmanship involving girls' basketball teams last month. In both cases, the consequences were severe.
After losing a semifinal game in the Santa Ana Valley tournament in December, a Compton Dominguez player punched a Westminster player while the teams shook hands. A melee ensued.
Dominguez clearly started the fight, according to tournament director Lionel Horn, but both schools suffered the same fate--disqualification from the tournament.
"At Santa Ana Unified, we have zero tolerance," Horn said. "Our administrators looked at it as if there had been two kids fighting, and they felt Westminster didn't do enough to get out of it."