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Adults are responsible for mentoring kids, but in many cases they're the ones setting the bad example.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Wade EvansonIt's been roughly two weeks since the National Federation of High School Sports' executive director, Karissa L. Niehoff, penned a letter to the masses regarding sportsmanship and inappropriate behavior at games.

She called it a "wake-up call" for "getting with the program" as it relates to unsportsmanlike conduct.

Them are fightin' words, but necessary ones aimed at the habitually immature who puzzlingly believe it suitable to berate — and in some cases, threaten — officials, rival fans, players and coaches at games.

Dr. Niehoff cited recent instances coast-to-coast involving unruly behavior from coaches, players, parents and even city politicians.

But this isn't just a "them" problem, it's a "we" one that I see on a nightly basis at games across the state — and it's not just frustrating and sad, but pathetic as well.

For years, I've said we'd all benefit from being on a television "reality show," because it would offer us an opportunity to see our actual behavior and not simply our perceived version.

We all have bad moments. And I've had more than my share, so I'm not preaching from a place of perfection. But my guess is that if the same people I see and hear yelling at referees on a nightly basis saw or heard themselves in action, they'd think long and hard about the example they're setting for the impressionable kids sitting next to them, on the bench, or in the game.

I recently had a retired coach tell me he used to hand out officiating applications to all of the parents to start the year. He'd say, "If you're really an expert, they could use your help."

And they could. After all, there's a shortage of referees across the country, and Oregon too is seeing that ever-shrinking pool of volunteers. But those same people complaining on a nightly basis would rather whine and snivel about the problem than rectify it, because that's the easy part.

Sportsmanship extends beyond the game and the players playing it. It involves both the coaches and the fans, and while it should be incumbent upon them to adhere to the same standards expected of the players in the games, they're often the root of it.

Kids take their cues from us. If they see you or me complaining about every whistle, they'll do the same. If they see you throwing a fit, they too will throw a fit. And if they see or hear you repeatedly disrespecting the officials that are part of the game, they'll equally disrespect them. That's a slippery slope that we're already seeing chip away at the very sportsmanship that's supposed to be on display.

We're the teachers, they're the students, and the games are in many ways the tools we use to teach them right or wrong, yet we regularly compromise them by excusing the very actions we're supposed to be working against.

On Feb. 20, Michigan head coach Juwan Howard struck a Wisconsin assistant coach on the court as the two teams shook hands as part of what's become a postgame ritual. The Wolverines coach was understandably upset immediately following the loss, but rather than handle the loss with maturity, he acted like a petulant child while nearly starting a riot in the process. Howard was suspended for five games for his actions, but in the wake of his inarguable misstep, many spent their time and energy trying to excuse his behavior rather than speaking out against it.

The situation was not complicated, and in fact, I'll boil it down rather simply: You don't hit people.

See, how hard was that? Very, if you listened to the countless people who worked overtime magically creating justifications for the coach responsible for mentoring young men, striking another one of those mentors over a loss.

Sad.

Don't yell at referees. For starters, it doesn't help. Secondly, it sets a bad example. Third and most simply, it looks as bad or worse than you think those referees are. That's not just my opinion, but Dr. Niehoff's as well, and hopefully most of yours.

So, enjoy the upcoming games, but remember, I'm watching — and so are your kids.


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