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And the crowd goes wild

Do fans go overboard at high school sports events?

Posted: August 14, 2009 9:31 p.m.
Updated: August 15, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Injuries don’t matter. Age doesn’t matter. Position doesn’t matter.

For some fans at sporting events, verbal abuse is a rite and nothing is sacred.

“I had a kid who’s had a broken ankle, and an opposing fan yelled, ‘Get up! You’re fine!” said Valencia head baseball coach Jared Snyder. “We’ve had fans yell obscenities at the plate and heckle. There have been some pretty bad things said.”

Players, coaches and officials are subject to questionable fan behavior at almost every game.

They don’t appreciate it.

“Imagine if all those comments were directed at you,” Snyder said. “How would you feel? Look in the mirror. I think a lot of the time we forget to judge ourselves. Imagine if you turned it back around.”

Fans have to pay to see professional games and most college games, but they only have to pay to see football and basketball in the Foothill League.

Because they have to pay, some believe there is a sense of entitlement.

Golden Valley boys basketball head coach Chris Printz doesn’t.

“I don’t think anybody who pays to see the game is entitled to anything other than seeing the game,” he says. “You’re not entitled to yell at a kid. You’re not entitled to degrade an individual. It’s just wrong.”

But it still happens, and Printz said school administrators around the Foothill League have talked about ways to handle it.

Police presence and security personnel could be increased, but it’s already a big expense.

Schools also rely on people familiar with the hecklers to help stop them.

But sometimes the hecklers are boosted by outside drug and alcohol abuse that the schools can’t police.

Printz said that he has an assistant coach sit at the end of the bench for every game to help keep fan behavior in check.

The rest of the coaches and players have to block out the nonsense.

“I think a lot of times, the kids don’t think they’re doing anything wrong,” Snyder said. “They’re supporting the school and they get carried away. We don’t hear what’s going on up there until after it’s over. If we’re hearing what’s in the stands, we’re not doing our job on the field.”

The atmosphere at Foothill League boys basketball games is different than any other sport because of the proximity of the bench to the crowd and the amount of people in the stands.

Hart High head basketball coach Tom Kelly said he has been pelted by projectiles and heard personal attacks from crowds.

He said the Foothill coaches talk about fan behavior at the season-end league meeting, but nothing is done.

Kelly said the school’s administrations should take a more proactive approach in curbing the abuse.

“I think it comes down to crowd control. It comes down to an administration presence,” Kelly said. “There should never be kids or cheerleaders from an opposing team (directly) behind our bench. There shouldn’t be Hart kids behind (an opposing team’s ) bench.”

Kelly said referees have the option of giving a team a technical foul if a crowd gets out of hand.

He has never seen a technical foul given for fan misbehavior, but said noise makers or projectiles would probably garner a technical foul.

Both are no strangers to Foothill League contests, yet referees have tended to keep their whistles in their pockets.

The issue of fan behavior came up prominently in July, when a group of fans calling themselves the “L.A. Riot Squad” were confronted at halftime of a Los Angeles Galaxy game by midfielder David Beckham.

Beckham alleged that the group was saying nasty things about his family, but the group insists it didn’t cross the line.

“We questioned David’s loyalty to the club and we sang, made signs and chanted things that were bluntly dismissive,” group member Eddie Garcia said through an official statement to the Web site theoriginalwinger.com. “As far as we can determine, no one from LARS crossed over to referencing his family, as Beckham has claimed.”

Beckham’s commitment to the Galaxy has certainly wavered.

At what point, however, do fans have to keep themselves under control?

How far are they entitled to go with their behavior?

“The problem we have here is the word ‘entitlement,’” Snyder said. “Some people believe if you pay the money to get in a game, you’re entitled to anything you want.”

The easy conclusion to draw is that fans must police themselves.

A different – and maybe more practical approach – is creating a game atmosphere that is passionate but controlled.

“It may start with the coach of teams,” Printz said. “The more the coach yells, the more riled up and incensed his team and his fans may get. A coach can help settle things down a lot.”

The officials are frequent targets of verbal abuse.

Snyder is quick to remind people that they are crucial to sporting events, and often sacrifice family time to attend them.

“I don’t think they get paid enough to listen to what some of these people yell at them,” he said. “The coaches are going to get on them a little bit, but I don’t believe they deserve what they get. I think we forget that without these men and women, we don’t have anyone to officiate these games.”

Snyder said he knows instances when officials refused to attend games played at certain schools because of the fans’ reputation.

They give it to another official instead.

Ultimately, franchises and school administrations are responsible for irresponsible fan behavior at their games.

“I wish ultimately the administration wouldn’t have to worry about it,” Printz said. “I wish kids would be raised to have respect so trying to tear down somebody else doesn’t become fun or a habit. But that may not be reality.”

Signal sports editor Cary Osborne contributed to this story.

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