Sportsmanship: Sounding a Warning

August 24, 2016

This article first appeared in the August/September 2016 issue of Athletic Management

As part of efforts to improve fan behavior at high school sporting events, some schools are experimenting with a carding system that mimics soccer rules. If a spectator exhibits unsportsmanlike conduct, the supervising administrator can issue the disrupter a yellow card as a warning, or a red card as an ejection from the contest.

After hearing about such a policy in northern Nevada, schools in North Dakota’s Class B, Region 1 put a Fan Yellow Card Policy into place last year for all sports. “Most of our fans are well-behaved,” says Wyndmere (N.D.) High School Principal and Activities Director Scott Strenge, who helped develop the idea. “But there were a few who were causing problems across the region. The new system allows us to keep an eye on them and help each other.”

The rules have been left loose, so each school has discretion to adapt them to its community, but overall, they work as follows: Foul or insulting language, such as taunting or intimidation, may result in a fan being given a yellow card by an administrator, with his or her name shared among the region’s other schools. If the behavior continues, the fan will be ejected, and he or she can be suspended from a subsequent game.

Strenge says that defining who can be issued a yellow card has proven less important than the simple act of putting the policy in place. Since the new rules have been enacted and publicized, he’s noticed a very different atmosphere at games.

“It’s not something I can quantify,” says Strenge. “I’ve yet to hand out a yellow card, but it’s made people aware of how they behave. I’ve had fans tell me this policy is decades overdue.

“I also had a coach who modified his behavior on the sidelines as a result of the policy,” he continues. “He realized that if we’re going to ask fans to behave appropriately, he needed to model it.”

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