Feb. 8, 2005, Chatter • Is anybody out there listening?

Last Wednesday I agreed to appear on Scott Blackwood’s evening sports show on the local radio network. Unbeknownst to me, Scott and his breakfast club buddies had yukked it up big time all morning on the radio in response to last week’s Chatter column in which I wrote I unabashedly supported Lassen High School and the CIF-Northern Section in their quest for good sportsmanship in the stands at LHS basketball games.

Based upon my understanding of the rules of sportsmanship adopted by LHS, I suggested it was OK for fans to root for their team, but it wasn’t OK for fans to root against the other team. I don’t think the idea of positive cheering is too hard to figure out. I guess the content of my column was so outrageous, I was challenged to debate the issue on Scott’s radio program that very evening.

I didn’t listen to the breakfast bunch that morning, I but heard about Scott’s challenge from some coworkers the moment I walked into the Times’ office. Sure enough, there on my voice mail was an invitation from Mr. Blackwood which began, “Hey, Sam, whatever time it is when you get this message is whatever time it is…”

At first I was going to decline and use the Pete Margolies line, “Everything I have to say is in the paper.” That’s a pretty darn good line, by the way, and I probably should have followed old Pete’s advice.  Instead, I tried to get a hold of Greg Dickerson, LHS’ athletic director, so he could talk to Scott and his listeners, but he was unavailable. I also contacted Tom Schroeder, commissioner of the CIF-Northern Section, to get him on the air and on the record about this issue, but he had other CIF commitments that evening.

It seemed kind of odd to put me, the sports editor of a weekly newspaper, in the position of having to defend the rules of conduct at high school basketball games, so I was still looking for a way out. But when I went to lunch, several diners told me they were looking forward to “the great debate” on the radio. And finally, when Cindie said I should do the show, well, I changed my mind.

It would be silly for me to take credit for the “Pursuing Victory with Honor” program adopted as the Arizona Sports Summit Accord in 1999. Let me take this opportunity to continue the opening comments I wanted to make. Scott acknowledged I’d brought big stacks of paper, and he said he respected all my documentation but disagreed with some of it. Unfortunately, most of this information never got on the air and out to the listeners.

You see, the 50 sports leaders who wrote the accord which is based on the Michael Josephson Institute of Ethics model called “Six Pillars of Character” — trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship — included Jennifer Alley, the executive director of the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators, Steve Baker, president of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, Tom Crawford, director of coaching, U.S. Olympic Committee, Bob Costas, announcer, NBC Sports, Bill Dwyre, sports editor, Los Angels Times, Jack Hayes, executive director of the California Interscholastic Federation (of which LHS  is a member) and John Wooden, former head basketball coach at UCLA.

And then consider that this program has been adopted by the American Football Coaches Association, the California Coaches Association, the California Community College Athletic Directors Association, the Institute for International Sports and the U.S. Olympic Committee Coaching Division, among others. Don’t let me forget to mention the Big 10 Conference, the Big 12 Conference, the National Junior College Athletic Association, the Pac 10 Conference, 40 high school state associations (including CIF, of which LHS is a member) and big time schools such as Air Force, Arizona State, Baylor, Brigham Young, UCLA, Iowa State, Kansas, Michigan State, Navy, UNLV, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oregon State, Pepperdine, Purdue, Rice, Stanford, Temple, Wake Forest and Washington State. They’ve all signed on. They all abide by this accord and its dedication to positive attitudes among the players on the court and the fans in the stands. I’m just a small town sports guy, and I certainly have to accept these sports heavyweights may have a much clearer picture of the problems in interscholastic sports and a much broader view of a path toward a solution.

I guess some people still think sporting events are all about them. It’s me, me, me and my outlet and my right to have fun at someone else’s expense. I couldn’t disagree more. High school kids will play and the games will go on regardless of the number of fans in the seats because it’s about the kids and the game, not the fans.

If I may steal a concept from Schroeder, high school sporting events are a continuation of a school’s classroom education. The coaches are teachers who not only teach the fundamentals of their sport, they also serve as role models of teamwork, good sportsmanship and character building for their players/students. These coaches are even brave enough to teach their classes out on the court or the field for all to see. One or two or three times per week they open their classroom to public view. Do we want to walk into this very public classroom and teach the kids it’s OK to demean and ridicule their opponents? Would we make fun of a student who just missed a math problem?

I hope everyone can see these LHS players are our kids and our grandkids. They put in countless hours practicing and learning their sport so we can be proud of them whether they win or lose. They’re just a bunch of our kids who recognize the positive lessons they can learn from sports, and they deserve all the respect we can muster.

The opposing teams are simply another group of kids and grandkids who have made the same commitment. They deserve that same respect, too.

There’s absolutely no way I’m going to boo, taunt or mock a hard-working 14-year-old freshman girl in pigtails who plays for another school.

Who in their right mind would want to treat a kid that way just because she comes from somewhere else?

That’s a pretty bad lesson, isn’t it?