In December, more then 3,000 students, coaches, administrators and parents will enter a hotel conference room in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and participate in a discussion of sportsmanship at the high school level. The students will attend two different keynote addresses and three of five breakout sessions in the hopes that they can bring back new information to their respective schools.
The December gathering of students is the eighth biennial Sportsmanship Summit, and it is just one of multiple initiatives the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) has developed to encourage sportsmanship in its state.
“Our sportsmanship efforts include a number of programs to provide the membership with resources, and maintain and enhance the efforts of cultivating and promoting sportsmanship at education-based events,” said Todd Clark, WIAA director of communications. “We have 514 members in 2016-17 and we sent an invitation to them all to attend the summit. They can share ideas from their schools and hear about sportsmanship.”
Each school can send up to six attendees. This year’s breakout topics include sportsmanship from the officials’ perspectives, school sportsmanship expectations, respectful social media and a roundtable with the WIAA sportsmanship committee. The keynote speakers are Craig Hillier and Ross Bernstein.
Throughout the rest of the year, the WIAA provides a sportsmanship award to one of the competing teams in each state championship. The judging criteria for this award include respect for all, knowing the rules and abiding by officials’ decisions, exercising self-control, and winning with character or losing with dignity. The winning team, which exhibits outstanding conduct in all categories and maintains an effort to keep its support positive, receives a banner for its gym and a trophy.
“Any time you give good, positive recognition to any number of things, including sportsmanship, it provides incentives for schools,” Clark said. “It also provides education to our schools and it’s the basis of the philosophy and purpose of school-based sports. “We embrace the promotion of sportsmanship.”
Making its debut in the WIAA sportsmanship arsenal this year is the Spirit of Excellence award. If a school takes a number of predetermined steps to promote good sportsmanship and its athletic
director, principal or a school board member confirms the criteria were achieved, the school will be awarded a certificate of excellence from the National Federation of State High School Associations.
“It’s self-reported,” Clark said. “So, it’s a great way to recognize our schools for the things they do, not only sportsmanship-wise, but for others things they need and want to do as members of the association.”
Clark said the WIAA simply wants to provide the resources for its member schools and allow them to take it from there. Schools can access many of these resources on the WIAA website, including a definition
of sportsmanship, a statement to be read at games over the public-address system before player introductions, a brochure about why sportsmanship matters and a timeline for implementing a sportsmanship campaign.
“We are able to recognize the great efforts of our member schools and provide them with the resources available to implement strategies and expectations locally that help reflect the membership’s purpose,” Clark said. “We believe by providing these incentives, local districts can better serve their schools by setting expectations that are reflective of the member schools as a whole.”
With current plans to see how the Spirit of Excellence program takes off before adding anything new to the association’s sportsmanship arsenal, Clark said the key is to keep all initiatives original and interesting. The WIAA will continue to enhance its resourcesand provide new efforts to cultivate sportsmanship.
“That’s always the goal – keep it fresh, exciting and make it so it doesn’t seem like it’s a chore to do,” Clark said. “We want everybody on board with it.
“The bottom line of sportsmanship is respect extended to others. If we can find initiatives and acceptable ways to do that, it’s better for not only the association, but for the local schools as well.”
Juli Doshan is a former member of the NFHS Publications and Communications Department and now lives in Washington, D.C.