Vermont Principals’ Association tackles poor sportsmanship at high school games

Published: Sep. 22, 2023 at 5:42 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Poor sportsmanship, accusations of racist remarks, and an on-court brawl -- Vermont high school sports have made headlines for the wrong reasons over the last few years. There are no issues in the majority of games played, but the Vermont Principals’ Association continues to work to make the experience for fans and athletes in all games a positive one.

Following a 2021 soccer game hate speech incident, the VPA implemented a complaint system for community members to report concerning behavior.

VPA’s Lauren Thomas says in the 2021 school year, there were 59 incident complaints. In the 2022 school year, there were 138 complaints out of 5,000 games. This year, there have been 10 complaints, but Thomas notes six were from the same alleged situation.

“Maybe it’s just an area of concern that the official did something, or it’s a legitimate concern that there was hate speech that was used,” Thomas said.

Some VPA-issued incident prevention measures include a pre-game speech, signage, and limiting some game day privileges. More severe actions can include no-fan games.

“We also just wanted to ensure that all of our athletic events you could take your family to and that you’re not at the end of the game having to explain to your four or five-year-old what that comment was or why the game got shut down,” said Thomas.

Spectators are encouraged to use positive, generic cheering, and to not call out specific players or negatively comment on performance. Game-day personnel serve as boots on the ground to keep an eye on player and spectator behavior.

Jeff Moreno with the Hartford School District is one of 79 athletic directors in the state who says the complaint system and across-the-board expectations are a welcome change to provide consistency. “We usually have one person dedicated to the visiting team and one person dedicated to the officials. We have one person dedicated to our students section so that we can stay on top of it and work with them throughout the process,” said Moreno.

He says students and parents often enter high school sports from growing up in a rec or private league where there’s less oversight. “I think we’re gonna get ahead of it. We’ve got to get into the youth levels and provide just an expectation right out of the chute for people to know that this is how you behave,” Moreno said.

Thomas agrees. She says the VPA’s next initiative is for middle school outreach but notes not every school has an athletic director, and often game-day personnel are volunteers.

Also new this year is increased oversight and attention from the VPA on handling emergency situations, ranging from weather issues to medical incidents.

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