In Dakota Ridge High School’s past history, it had an unfortunate reputation of poor sportsmanship and fan behavior at sporting events. Overly spirited student sections often filled the stands and would shout inappropriate cheers and taunt opponents.
Likewise, an extremely vocal parent section also gave the school a black eye due to its conduct. Being aware of this negative perspective of the school, Dakota Ridge’s administration took a number of strong steps to try and improve the atmosphere and environment at contests.
It was somewhat like herding cats when trying to control fan conduct, but one of the best proactive measures was hosting a pre-season parent informational meeting to establish and communicate the school’s expectations regarding behavior and to provide useful information about the school’s athletic programs.
At the start of each season, it is important to set clear ground rules for the spectators who will be involved in the upcoming contests. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the administration strived to get 100 percent in-person attendance at these meetings, but it realized that with today’s hectic world, many parents had obligations that wouldn’t match the assigned timeframe.
To make sure parents were getting the important information, the school first provided an option for parents who couldn’t attend – the ability to register for the Parenting course on the NFHS Learning Center (www.NFHSLearn.com). While this online class has a great deal of valuable information, the administration was looking for a way to disseminate specific key material to the Dakota Ridge community.
In order to make sure all-important details were received by student-athletes and their guardians, an online presentation was created as an alternative means before attending a Dakota Ridge event. The Dakota Ridge High School Parent Presentation covers a range of topics, but it has three major components that the school wants parents to have for a clearer understanding of what the school values to make athletic participation a positive experience for their student-athletes.
The coach-parent relationship and their interactions are extremely important. To address this topic, a sampling of Dakota Ridge’s coaches was asked, “Why do you coach?” The powerful responses from the coaches are displayed on a slide.
For example, one coach said, “I coach because I have a passion and love for the game and I am thrilled to watch players grow into fantastic people and leave their own legacies.” Another coach passionately wrote, “I love the relationships you build with players and watching them grow and change from a freshman to a graduating young adult. To watch them learn from their failures and to work to improve their skills and knowledge of the game and in life is the biggest reward by far.”
With these heartfelt statements, parents get a better understanding of the passion of the Dakota Ridge coaching staff. The coaches are dedicated to the development of the student-athletes.
To further reinforce how dedicated Dakota Ridge’s athletic leaders are to their roles and to demonstrate the reason they coach isn’t due to money, the district pay scale for salaries is shown. It is a shocking realization that a coach works almost 12 months of the year for an average of $3,500 a month. Many parent discussions reveal that this is about half of what they expected that the coaches earned in the district. It is also stressed that Dakota Ridge’s coaches are devoted to the education-based athletics concept and the mental and the physical development of the student-athlete. Even though coaches only receive a salary for their season, coaches are expected to do off-season conditioning, weight training and other developmental tasks.
In another important section of the Dakota Ridge presentation, the administration wants the audience to get a better understanding of sports officials and an appreciation of the role they play in high school athletics. Data from the state association is provided that shows a sharp decrease in the number of referees, umpires, etc. who have been certified for the past five years. Even though the state of Colorado is adding schools, sports and the number of contests, the pool is shrinking.
In this part of the presentation, the process of how officials are assigned to high school events is also explained. For example, a basketball referee enters the draw and sees openings for a Dakota Ridge game or a game at a neighboring school. Does he or she pick the school where parents scream and complain throughout the game? Or do they choose to work in Dakota Ridge’s gym where parents treat them with respect and they know they will be supported? Dakota Ridge wants to create a welcoming and supportive atmosphere for its officials.
By talking about the treatment of officials, it leads to an important fact that attending a Dakota Ridge sporting event is a privilege, not a guaranteed right. Spectators need to know the school’s and district’s expectations for fan behavior. A section of the parent meeting is specifically devoted to this important issue. Parents are instructed about the proper chain of communication that is expected to be followed. It is stressed that all discussions must start with the coach. Unfortunately, it also has to be addressed in the meeting that fans can be ejected from events and, in extreme situations, the district can issue a letter of trespass for misbehavior.
Accountability is vitally important. Dakota Ridge requires all families, therefore, to complete the Parent Pledge, and this document is the agreement to ensure that parents follow the expectations of the Dakota Ridge High School Athletic Department. In order for their student-athlete to compete on a team, this form must be completed and turned in after attending the meeting or watching it online.
Fan behavior takes a lot of pre-work plus setting clear expectations. Using the parent meeting has helped build a better Dakota Ridge sporting environment and has reduced the number of negative issues. There are always exceptions, but the key for the administration is to be proactive in addressing these situations. There is no doubt that the online Parent Presentation has been a valuable addition to meet this objective.
Matt Heckel, CMAA, is the athletic director at Dakota Ridge High School in Littleton, Colorado.