Our View: New KHSAA policy will keep focus on athletes

A new policy adopted by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Wednesday rightfully tackles unsportsmanlike behavior by spectators.

The policy reads, ““Any adult spectator (adult who is not listed on the current roster of coaches for the school) at any KHSAA sanctioned interscholastic event (scrimmage, regular or postseason contest) who is removed by school administrators or by law enforcement (whether or not referred by an official) shall be suspended from attending, at minimum, the next contest at that level of competition and all other contests at any level in the interim.”

The new policy will go into effect for the 2019-20 school year, and comes as a response to a shortage of referees for high school sporting events this year, which KHSAA attributes to unsportsmanlike behavior from spectators.

KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tacket co-authored an op-ed in February, blaming parents and fans who act up in the crowds for the declining number of referees.

“When you attend an athletic event that involves your son or daughter, or the members of your student body, cheer to your heart’s content, enjoy the camaraderie that high school sports offer and have fun,” Tackett and Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, wrote. “But when it comes to verbally criticizing game officials or coaches, it’s time for everyone to cool it.

“Make no mistake about it. Your passion is admired, and your support of the hometown team is needed. But so is your self-control. Yelling, screaming and berating the officials humiliates your child, annoys those sitting around you, embarrasses your child’s school and is the primary reason Kentucky has an alarming shortage of high school officials.”

KHSAA reports there were about 313 fewer referees in Kentucky in 2018 than in 2012.

The op-ed cited a recent survey by the National Association of Sports Officials that found more than 75 percent of all high school officials say “adult behavior” is the primary reason they quit, and 80 percent of all young officials hang up their stripes after two years of whistle blowing. Abuse from the crowds is the cause.

Athletes on the field or the court are expected to adhere to a set of conduct guidelines and rightfully so. But how can we expect our  young people to exhibit good sportsmanship when adults in the crowd are allowed to act out?

The new rule will allow the focus of high school sports to remain on teaching positive lessons to student athletes.

While the goal any sport is to win, the mission of youth sports spans much further. Youth sports teach about cooperation, how to win and lose gracefully, how to take direction, how to stretch our limitations and more.

When student athletes, referees or coaches are torn down by unruly adults in the crowd, it sets a bad example and makes it harder to drive home these these positive lessons to our youth.

This new policy will allow athletes, coaches and refs to focus on the game rather than what is happening in the stands.

We commend KHSAA for establishing these guidelines and hope more steps will be taken to maintain an expected decorum on and off the field. Our youth deserve it.