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The Nation

Sports officials say a 'boo ban' just isn't happening

March 06, 2007|Sam Howe Verhovek | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE — A ban on booing? The idea has drawn a lot of jeers here.

Amid concerns that unruly and profane fans are degrading high school sportsmanship, the association that oversees competition in Washington state is considering revisions to its code of conduct for spectators.

And, after one Seattle newspaper reported over the weekend that it was considering a new "boo ban," the organization found itself enmeshed in controversy -- and flooded with phone calls -- over the concept.

The problem, said the group's executive director, is that the report was untrue.

"There is no boo ban; there won't be a boo ban," said Mike Colbrese, executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Assn. "That's just silly."

What already exists and will continue to do so, said Colbrese, are guidelines that define booing as one of a number of "unacceptable" behaviors, a term intended to give school administrators broad latitude to quiet -- and, in extreme cases, to eject -- fans who swear at the referees, taunt opposing players or engage in other obnoxious behavior.

"The idea has always been that you are trying to encourage positive spirit at these games -- to be cheering for your side, not to be denigrating the other side," said Michael Bailey, athletic director at Issaquah High School in suburban Seattle.

"That's been true for a while," said Bailey. "For instance, our banners at football games don't say 'Beat Bellevue' .... They say things like, 'Go Issaquah,' or 'Eagles Fly High.' "

But, Bailey continued, "this idea that they're trying to ban booing altogether is ridiculous.... Absolutely not; it's not going to happen. If you've got a list of 10 things that kids are doing at these games that's inappropriate, No. 11 is booing."

The idea of a possible booing ban was launched by a Seattle Post-Intelligencer report Saturday that the WIAA, as the athletic association is known, was "considering rules for fans that could ban booing and offensive chants."

Then a sports columnist for the Seattle Times, Steve Kelley, weighed in Monday with a column celebrating the booing of his youth -- in Philadelphia. Jeering, he said, was "as much an art form as an aria by Handel.... The right to boo is as inalienable to a sports fan as life, liberty and the pursuit of the hotdog vendor."

Colbrese said the association was looking at possibly adding more specific definitions to its long-standing code-of-conduct manual for players, coaches, administrators and fans.

Titled "Just Play Fair!," the manual encourages spectators to "refrain from crowd booing, foot stomping or making negative comments about officials or participants."

Listed among "unacceptable" behaviors are "making disrespectful or derogatory yells, chants, songs or gestures"; "booing or heckling an official's decision"; and "yelling that antagonizes opponents."

As a practical matter, said Colbrese, it's up to school administrators to keep their side of the crowd from becoming too antagonistic.

In theory, sustained bad crowd behavior at, say, a basketball game could lead a referee to award technical-foul shots to the other team. But, Colbrese said, it was and probably would remain rare for a referee to actually do so.

"These are guidelines, and they are good ones," said Colbrese. "But that's what they are -- guidelines. They're not laws. We're trying to encourage safety and civility."

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sam.verhovek@latimes.com

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