New statewide rules aim to improve sportsmanship

by Katie DePaola and Kelly Magrino
New statewide rules governing both athletes and fans at high school athletic events can result in teams being penalized for unsportsmanlike behavior. Referees are encouraged to impose penalties if they hear cursing, personal insults or slurs related to race, culture or sexual orientation directed at players, coaches, officials or spectators.

For example, at the beginning of a basketball game, the referees must read a blanket statement prepared by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA), stating that if vulgar words or slurs are displayed on the field the player or coach who spoke to them is automatically removed from the game.
Previously, a referee would give warnings, or in some sports such as soccer, a yellow caution card to players because of unsportsmanlike conduct. The new rule requires the offender to be automatically ejected from the game.
The revised NJSIAA rule was enforced at the beginning of the 2013 fall sports season.
School officials and athletic staff members who publicly criticize an official or an opponent are also held accountable for unsportsmanlike conduct. Investigations can be made by the school, league conference or NJSIAA for bias incidents. In addition to an investigation, the NJSIAA executive director will forward reports of violations of the sportsmanship rule to the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights.
“I don’t feel that the team should be responsible for fans’ behavior. However, I do think fans should support the teams with a certain level of respect for the people around them,” said sophomore varsity basketball player Alyssa Miguelino.
The referees and officials of the sporting events decide on the punishment for the unsportsmanlike conduct. Although the rules read before the game state that any unsportsmanlike comments result in punishments, some comments have different meanings in different contexts, so the official has the final decision on what is allowed and what is not.
“Hopefully this new rule will bring to light the fact that kids should be playing sports and be sportsmanlike and this rule will emphasize that. It’s a good rule to learn and use for your entire life,” said basketball referee Bart Flanzbaum.
The NJSIAA acknowledges that ultimately, each school’s administrators have “the responsibility for establishing the principles of good sportsmanship in the minds of the entire school family.”
So far, no sports team in the high school has been penalized for unsportsmanlike behavior from either fans or players.
“I don’t think poor sportsmanship is a problem for our school,” said Athletic Director Ryan Miller.