Spectators need to be held accountable

It might be an understatement to suggest that in Camas and Washougal, high school sports are a big deal.

Friday night football games draw hundreds, if not thousands, of screaming fans — students, parents and community members alike — to Fishback and Doc Harris stadiums. This is also where crowds faithfully cheer on the soccer teams and track and field teams. Volleyball and basketball supporters also pack local gymnasiums to the gills.

These spectators get the opportunity to watch as our local athletes put an incredible amount of effort to improve, achieve their goals, and win games in the name of representing their alma maters and their hometowns.

But beneath all of the great things that can and should be said about the athletes who practice hard during the week and perform to the best of there abilities in game time situations, and the coaches who lead them, high school sports can have a dark side as well.

It’s not at all that uncommon for fans to jeer and heckle referees after making a call they disagree with. Coaches have been confronted by parents angry about a call or play made on the field, or a decision to put one player into the game over another. In one recent incident, a local player who got into a physical altercation with a player from a visiting team was cheered on by the home crowd. And their are many other examples of parents, fans and students behaving badly in the name of “supporting their team.”

The problems got to the point in Washougal where school district officials recently took the step to craft a new code of conduct agreement that will be given to all parents of student athletes at the start of each season. In it, parents are asked to refrain from using profanity, making obscene gestures, berating players and coaches, showing excessive displays of anger or frustration, and complaining or arguing about officials’ calls or with coaches.

On paper, every one of these directives makes a whole lot of sense. The challenge, however, will be the enforcement. District officials will have their eyes and ears on the crowd, but it will be up to those who attend these high school sporting events as spectators to police themselves, and be willing to report to security those who aren’t living up to expectations.

Spectators need to keep in mind that players, coaches and referees will make mistakes. They are human, after all. Most referees and coaches who are out there rain or shine aren’t doing the job to make money, but instead because they enjoy youth sports and seeing kids achieve their goals.

A mistake on the field or on the sideline does not give an automatic green light for spectators to be disrespectful or inappropriate to coaches and game officials.

In the end, athletes’ participation in high school athletics should be a positive experience for all involved. Spectators — in this case family members and students — have the opportunity to play a significant role in making sure this happens.