A Comeback for Sportsmanship? More Leaders Encourage Young Athletes to Ignore Most Professional Role Models

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Byline: Kristy Kennedy Daily Herald Staff Writer

Turn on the television and watch the Bulls' Dennis Rodman head-butting a referee, Baltimore Oriole Roberto Alomar spitting in an umpire's face, or soccer fans in Europe rioting on the field.

Go to a local baseball field or basketball court and hear parents taunting players, watch fans turn their backs when opposing team players are announced and hear players swearing at umpires.

Sports officials throughout the suburbs say sportsmanship from the pros down to Little League has gotten worse over the years.

But in an effort to reverse that trend, many schools and athletic organizations are trying to make their fans and players better sports.

For instance, the Schaumburg Athletic Association is kicking off an experimental program this year with its girls softball program.

Coaches, fans and players will receive sportsmanship awards during games and one player from each age group will help throw out the first pitch at a July Cubs game as a reward for good sportsmanship.

"We're trying to hold up the good examples," said Frank Hill, SAA girls softball commissioner.

"There are a lot of poor examples of sportsmanship in professional sports. Those players are our role models. The kids and parents tend to imitate them."

The National Federation of High School Associations is so concerned about the issue that the group is setting up meetings with professional sports leagues to talk about codes of conduct.

At the state level, the Illinois High School Association has required for the last few years that any player or coach ejected from a game for poor sportsmanship must sit out the next game.

Locally, high schools like Hoffman Estates and Libertyville have implemented programs to boost positive school spirit and penalties to quash any bad behavior.

Each school's conference - the North Suburban and Mid-Suburban - gives out awards to the school displaying the most sportsmanship.

In Hoffman Estates, the school plays not only its own fight song, but the opposing school's song, too.

Also, pins and T-shirts are given to good sports saying, "Here Everyone Has Sportsmanship."

The school is trying to make sportsmanship cool, Principal Dennis Garber said.

At Libertyville, bad sports can be banned from games or lose playing time, said Tim Albers, who has been Libertyville's athletic director for the last three years.

Next year, the school will start a "First Class" initiative aimed at increasing respect for people. The purpose isn't to stomp out school spirit, but to make it more positive, Albers said.

For starters, an unofficial group of student fans with T-shirts calling themselves the "Heckling Crew" will be asked to come up with a more positive name.

"I want Libertyville to be a tough place for others to win home games," Albers said. "But instead of rooting against the other team, we want our fans to support us."

An increase in bad sportsmanship over the years has prompted those efforts and others throughout the suburbs, officials said.

- The rivalry between Libertyville and Lake Forest reached a new low a few years ago when Libertyville fans waved argyle socks to mock their opponents' "preppiness" and Lake Forest fans waved white trash bags.

"About halfway through the game, I got the message," Albers said. "But once I did, I was appalled."

Albers added that rivalries are good because they generate excitement, but said the focus needs to change.

- Fans have turned and faced the wall when players from an opposing team were announced at some games attended by Garber, Hoffman Estates High School principal.

- Hill, of the SAA, has seen children cry after being yelled at by a coach or parents for missing a play. …