Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has dual arts degrees from Ohio State University.

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It’s happening on an increasing scale – people being escorted from high school sporting events for behavior unbecoming the example of character and sportsmanship, the thing we want to teach the kids.  And the question is…why does it matter that much?

Three times in the past month I witnessed people being thrown out of a high school basketball game.

In one case I thought it was actually a player.  I wasn’t paying attention and asked if one had been ejected for throwing a punch.

“No,”  the person beside me corrected.  “It was an adult who threw the punch at another adult in the stands.”

Oh!

In the second case I witnessed an adult last week who harassed one of the game officials so relentlessly throughout the game that he was finally escorted, at the direction of the officials, to the back door of the gym and told to cool off in the plummeting temperatures outside.

In the third case…just adults behaving badly at a Division I sectional final game on Saturday – language unspeakable, threats, and at the game’s most climactic moment in the fourth quarter some were asked to leave.  Actually, they were TOLD to leave.

Now this happens every year, despite schools and the OHSAA’s best efforts to promote good character and sportsmanship by reading those pre-game announcements about respecting each other, the officials, and above all…”respecting the game”.  It goes in one ear and out the other.  People simply don’t pay attention…because, they come with an agenda of their own, a self-fulfilling prophecy in some cases.

It amounts to adults behaving worse than the kids on the court.  It’s people who take the game or the outcome far too seriously – people who come with an attitude of competitive ‘vicariousness’.  That is, living through the kids, and competition in some cases on the basis of class, culture, and pride.

Some complain that the schools, or tournament administration, is at fault for not having enough supervision, or security.  But that was not what I witnessed last week.  The venues were Johnny-on-the-spot with proper authority and timing.  No, this was simply a case of adults behaving badly, and sadly in some cases, one baiting another in hopes that he, or she, would react.

The question is why.  Why in the world would you come to a high school basketball game and behave in a manner as to be thrown out?  So upset as to threaten someone, either on the court or in the stands?  So upset as to embarrass your school, your community, and yourself?

“I really can’t answer that,”  says Sidney athletic director Mitch Hoying.  “But because communities sometimes claim relationships with the kids for so many reasons, I tell people this.  It’s fine to be competitive, but not at the cost of behaving badly.  And I tell our kids all the time…root for Sidney, but don’t root against the opposing team. I stand on those two principles.

But there are games each year where you get the sense that people are willing go fight before they ever enter the gym, and especially at elementary and junior high contests, where young and inexperienced officials are working those games – prone to mistakes.  And in one highly-publicized local event two years ago, authorities cleared the gym of people from both schools…people who sought to settle their issues with their own hands.

“I’m actually afraid to go to a high school basketball game anymore,”  a person told me recently (who asked not to be identified).  “Especially if it’s a game where there’s people you don’t know or recognize.  It just scares me and I won’t go.  You just never know.”

Which again begs the question…if you’re that prone to act badly over what someone says or does – over and official’s call – would it not be better to get up and leave, rather than become confrontational?  Why is it that important to have the last word?

Some communities, and some states, have taken this very seriously.  In Baltimore (Md.) last year, they banned spectators altogether from attending some high school basketball games, for fear of fights and an unsafe environment for the players.

And in the state of Wisconsin two years ago, they banned students from taunting.  No more “sit down, shut up”.  No more “scoreboard, scoreboard”.  No more “we can’t HEAR you”.  They did this for the sake of better environment, character building, and sportsmanship.

One California community banned booing, altogether.

Personally, I think that’s on over-reach, because part of the competitive experience is learning how to handle noise, distraction, and knowing that there are people there who don’t want to see you win.

But to act so badly as to get thrown out – for harassing the referees, or threatening someone from the other side, or for throwing a punch – I can’t begin to know what that must feel like when you wake up the next morning.

But I do know this.  The OHSAA’s message isn’t getting across, and it’s likely it never will.  You can’t mandate character.  That’s something that has to come from within, regardless of culture, social class, affluence, or poverty.  How you behave at a basketball game is a decision that you make before you ever get there.  And if it’s that big an issue….

Maybe you shouldn’t go at all!

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