From the sign greeting visitors on the highway to the helmets of the state university’s football team, the Bucking Horse and Rider is deeply engrained into the Wyoming way of life.
The Wyoming High School Activities Association (WHSAA) is no different. The iconic emblem graces the organization’s logo and the logos of many related organizations.
The famous symbol is even the basis for the WHSAA’s sportsmanship initiative – “Join the RIDE.”
This initiative was a program developed by the WHSAA’s Student Advisory Council to promote good sportsmanship throughout the state’s high schools. The students came up with the term RIDEr to signify someone who exemplifies good sportsmanship.
WHSAA Executive Director Ron Laird said the organization wanted to get students more involved in addressing sportsmanship issues. Thus, the council was created in March 2008.
“We feel that their involvement sends the message that it is not just the state mandating appropriate behavior at our high school events,” he said. “Peer role models can make a difference."
RIDE is really an acronym for four components of good sportsmanship: respect, integrity, dedication and encouragement.
These are not abstract terms either. The council came up with a short definition for each tenet.
Student-athletes show respect by respecting participants, officials, guests, their own school, other schools and themselves.
Integrity is simply defined by the Golden Rule: treat others as you wish to be treated.
Dedication is understanding the RIDE is not an overnight process. Good sportsmanship is an ongoing practice, and it is worth the effort to achieve it.
Finally, Encouragement is promoting good sportsmanship just as much as one discourages bad sportsmanship.
In addition to defining those four characteristics, the student advisory council also identified five groups of people that impact sportsmanship, and whether the impact is positive or negative. Those five groups are: administrators, coaches, spectators, participants and officials.
The council again offered expanded definitions for each example. Administrators are the standard by which sportsmanship is measured. Coaches are the primary role models, and spectators must use their voices to represent sportsmanship in a positive way. Participants are the reason everyone is there, so they must compete with class. Finally, officials maintain the integrity of events with fair and consistent rule enforcement.
Every school year, the association selects 16 students from across the state to make up the council.
Once the students are chosen, they are asked to evaluate Wyoming’s sportsmanship initiatives and examine what other states are doing around the country.
The council facilitates district summits every November and December. Each school at these summits brings their student leaders so they can learn and return the core values from the RIDE to their own schools.
It also produces YouTube videos to illustrate their main points of emphasis. These videos are typically dramatized scenarios designed to highlight the importance of good sportsmanship.
The 2014-15 council made two 30-second videos. Both videos started with a case of good or bad sportsmanship that slowly spiraled out of hand, reminiscent of the DirecTV slippery slope commercials. In one, bad sportsmanship begets an unfortunate scenario, and in the other, good sportsmanship rewards the student-athlete exponentially.
Additionally, the council assisted in the development of a yellow card given to unruly spectators.
The initiative has fundamentally shaped the appearance of high school sports in Wyoming. Officials wear a “Join the RIDE patch,” banners are displayed in gyms all over the state with Join the RIDE tenets clearly displayed and “Join the RIDE” announcements are made at all WSHAA events.
Laird said he has seen more schools step up their sportsmanship after the council and its programs were created.
“As the initiative becomes more established, we are pleased to have more schools on the same page with enforcing codes of conduct,” he said. “Students deserve to know expectations at their school as well as when they are visitors at another school’s events."
Ben Sieck is an intern in the NFHS Publications and Communications Department and a junior at Butler University.