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OHSAA relaunches Respect the Game program to address bad fan behavior

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OHSAA, Press Release

The Ohio High School Athletic Association launched the Respect the Game program in 2004, and the phrase and logo have become synonymous with interscholastic athletics in Ohio from public address announcers, publications, social media and public service announcements.

This fall, the OHSAA has been working on new resources and collecting ideas from member schools to announce an expanded Respect the Game program as the 2023-24 winter sports season is about to get underway.
 
At the top of the list is a recommendation that schools have members of both schools’ student sections stand together and take the microphone to read a sportsmanship message to the fans before contests this winter.
 
“Bad fan behavior can ruin a game, and we need to do something about it,” said Doug Ute, OHSAA Executive Director and the OHSAA’s basketball administrator. “We have met with student-athletes and the message we received is ‘it’s our game’ and we need to try to get poor sportsmanship from the bleachers out of the game. We have an officiating shortage in Ohio and the number one reason that officials get out of officiating is the abuse they take from the bleachers. We must create a more positive environment at our athletic contests.”
 
The Respect the Game website is located at https://www.ohsaa.org/Respect-the-Game and contains many new items, such as resources for school administrators, public address scripts, updated content for preseason parent meetings, examples of positive behavior as observed by contest officials, responsibilities for various groups, public service announcements and much more. Videos will also be added containing interviews with school administrators sharing ideas that work at their schools in promoting positive sporting behavior.
 
“When a student takes the microphone and addresses the gym, everybody listens,” said Ute. “It’s powerful. We hope that adults will listen to what the kids are saying and cheer for their team, not against the officials or the other team. Some schools are doing this already, but we have to do this across the state to make sure high school sports stay strong for years to come.”
 
The shortage of officials is a nationwide issue that the National Federation of High School Associations (NFHS) has identified and addressed in the last several years.
 
“If we don’t have officials, there are no games,” said Ute. “The NFHS identified this as the top concern for high school sports. The student-athletes we met with said that bad behavior from the fans is embarrassing and sometimes can lead to them not wanting to play. All of us have a role to play in creating positive environments at our schools. This isn’t college or professional athletics. We must do better for our kids.”
 
Each week, the OHSAA will highlight a new resource, with the goal that all resources become standard operating procedure at athletic events. The OHSAA is also collecting stories and examples of sportsmanship and positive environments for the website and to share with other schools.