Sometimes, the success of a program depends on the people who created it or lead it. Other times, those who are participating in the program can encourage and direct change for the better. The latter is the case in the state of Washington, where individual leagues and schools have been allowed to run with the state’s sportsmanship program and have helped form it into something all their own.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) has provided its schools the basic framework for its sportsmanship program for many years, but has watched it grow and change through each school’s individual interpretation and implementation of the program.
“Our sportsmanship program is probably close to 20 years old, but seems to always be growing and that’s really from student and school input,” said Brian Smith, WIAA assistant executive director. “I think one of the nice things about our sportsmanship program is that leagues and schools can kind of take the foundation of what our program provides and take it to another level of what works for them.
“The biggest part of it is just schools asking for some kind of motivation and positive reinforcement for good behaviors as much as it is for distracting or persuading kids against negative behavior.”
The “Just Play Fair” program encourages schools to create and implement a year-round sportsmanship program that follows policies and procedures that include adoption of a sportsmanship and citizenship resolution, development of a code of conduct and sportsmanship promotion. Schools can promote sportsmanship in a variety of ways, from developing public-service announcements, sportsmanship handbooks and posters to conducting pep rallies and inviting speakers to talk about sportsmanship and citizenship. The WIAA provides resources and tools every step of the way for the schools.
“We’ve provided that framework, but sometimes our leagues will take it to just a whole other level, still using the framework as the structure they’re building around with great philosophy,” Smith said. “It’s what others have done with it around our state that makes it so positive.”
When schools successfully complete the requirements and submit their plan to the WIAA, they receive a sportsmanship banner to hang in their gym. Individual students are also awarded sportsmanship medallions.
“It really allows our schools to highlight kids who are showing great sportsmanship, citizenship and fair play, while still excelling in the sport as either a participant or even a crowd member,” Smith said. “There’s nothing better than a great crowd that’s positive and encouraging rather than negative.”
As a result of trying to lay down the groundwork early, a couple years ago, the WIAA created the “Give Me Five” program. This program, for middle schools students, helps kids, parents and coaches begin thinking about positive sportsmanship before they reach high school.
“We’ve taken some of those ideals from ‘Just Play Fair,‘ but gone a step further with that,” Smith said. “I think that’s also bolstered the power of the high school one in that we’re starting at a younger age, not only with athletes, but encouraging schools to work with parents and coaches to strengthen that community, the healthy culture we’re looking for.”
The “Give Me Five” program awards a certificate each month to a different boy and girl who have displayed the first major components of the program – honor, sportsmanship, courage, respect and citizenship. Smith said these students are also promoted on the WIAA website and in the WIAA newsletter.
“The main thing is just that we’re able to identify, promote and really celebrate great actions,” Smith said. “Often in the news media, we’re reading about negative things that are going on out there so it’s kind of like we’re combating that with ‘Here’s these great kids doing super things.’
“My proudest part of that is being able to showcase great kids.”
Juli Doshan is a former member of the NFHS Publications and Communications Department who now lives in Washington, D.C.