Opinion: Is sportsmanship dead in high school basketball?

Feb 1, 2023, 12:00 PM
A group of high school students stand on a basketball court during a free throw. (Amanda Dickson/KS...
A group of high school students stand on a basketball court during a free throw. (Amanda Dickson/KSL NewsRadio)
(Amanda Dickson/KSL NewsRadio)

This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom.

My son, Ethan, is a senior in high school and the center on his basketball team. He only started playing the game in his sophomore year — so even though he is 6’4″, he still has a lot to learn. But he isn’t the only one. Especially when it comes to sportsmanship.

He played a game this week against a school with very talented players. In two years, we’ve won two and lost two against this team. All but the first game were close.

All of them were miserable experiences because of the opposing school’s student fans.

Ethan was heckled every time he touched the ball. After the game, I apologized to Ethan for what he had to put up with.

If he made the shot, they heckled him. If he missed a shot, it was worse. And he wasn’t the only one.

These students came up with derogatory nicknames for almost all of our kids. They taunted, yelled at, and insulted our players all game long. After a walking call, they yelled, “You’re only supposed to walk your dog.” “Nice pass idiot!” “Hey, mullet — where’d you get your hair cut?”

“That’s just basketball”

“That’s just basketball, Mom,” Ethan said.

I appreciate his taking it in stride, but that doesn’t work for me. Maybe in the NBA, but in high school where we are still trying to teach young people values and sportsmanship, no way.

I kept waiting for their parents to say something, for the school’s coach to say something, for the referee to speak up.

The referee finally chastised them when they heckled one of our players who was injured. After they yelled at him while he was writhing in pain on the court, the ref told them to stop. (Fifteen minutes before, he told some of their parents to stop taunting the boys, but the ref let the students go wild until someone was injured.)

Maybe I’ve spent too much time in the classroom substitute teaching recently, but I would not allow students to behave that way uncorrected. If they had been our students, they would have gotten an earful from me.

“Civility” and sportsmanship

On the wall of the gym at this school is written the word “civility.” Never has a stated value been so blatantly ignored. They need to take it off the wall or teach their students what it means.

More and more, I have experienced kids behaving belligerently in my classroom. If I ask them to do something, they just stare at me with a “make me” expression. Sometimes they just flat-out say “no.” I’ve been taught as a substitute not to push it, that it’s not worth having a fight, but I am reminded of what a friend told me about referring to basketball games, “What you permit, you promote.”

What you permit, you promote

This school permitted incivility, unkindness, unsportsmanlike conduct, cruelty and rudeness. I’m sure if you asked anyone who works there, they would not want to promote those behaviors.

How do you see this issue?

I would love to hear from you if you’ve handled situations like this. Am I overreacting? Are life and people just mean, and I need to suck it up? How do you encourage your children to value sportsmanship when other students and the adults around them do not?

Thank you for listening.

Amanda Dickson is the co-host of Utah’s Morning News and A Woman’s View.

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Opinion: Is sportsmanship dead in high school basketball?