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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Snider High School football fans congratulate their team during a game against Bishop Luers.
Keep it civil, sports fans

Crowd control

Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
The student section at Homestead High School was filled with enthusiastic fans for a recent game against Huntington North High School. Coaches say screaming crowds are great – as long as they are polite.

Matt Lindsay has been a high school football coach for 26 years and Bishop Luers High School’s athletic director for 21, so he’s seen a lot of fan behavior at high school sporting events.

And it makes him happy when he sees fans behaving well – as he did this month after the 10-7 fourth-quarter victory by Snider High School’s Panthers football team over his school’s Knights in their opener.

“Walking to the buses, you had to walk through maybe a thousand people, and I saw fans congratulating (players) from both sides, in both uniforms,” he says.

But he’s also seen his share of the opposite, and both he and Russ Isaacs, Snider’s athletic director and football coach from 1976 to 2008, agree that sportsmanship should reign among players and fans alike.

“We need to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat. If we frame every play like that – if we make a big play, be humble, and if they make a great play, be gracious – that’s what it’s about,” Issacs says.

So, with many scholastic sports’ seasons upon us, we asked Lindsay and Issacs what they would like fans to remember when they go to games.

They’re called student-athletes for a reason. “Believe it or not, they’ve got more to do than football,” Lindsay says – things such as chemistry homework, work-study placements, taking SATs and filling out college applications. Support them for being able to juggle balls in the air – on and off their sport’s stage.

You don’t know everything the coach does. “Some people think they know everything going on when they don’t. Even if they played the game, they’re not involved in every game,” Lindsay says. “They don’t know what a coach is trying to accomplish with a particular play or a particular kid.”

Mistakes happen. “Nobody wants to make mistakes,” Issacs says, pointing out that not only players but also coaches and referees aren’t perfect. “The nature of sport is that not all is going to go well all of the time,” he says, adding: “They’re doing their best.”

Sometimes, they can hear you. “You don’t hear individuals at a Notre Dame game when there’s 80,000 people yelling in a big stadium,” Lindsay says. But if you’re on the sidelines of a middle school soccer game or in a gym for a high-school wrestling meet, “sometimes you can pick out everything individual people say,” he says.

Coaches have thick skins. Players, maybe not so much. Lindsay says coaches learn to shrug off derogatory fan comments. But players are teenagers, he says, and they may take a comment to heart. Says Issacs: “No adult should ever make derogatory comments about a high school athlete. There’s absolutely no place for it. It’s unacceptable and it should not occur.”

Check profanity at the gate. In other words, screaming “Awesome!” is good enough, without that other word. “If someone is being abusive and we’re confronted about it, we’re going to confront that person and remove that person, if necessary,” Issacs says.