There is just nothing like a crowded gym with the squeaking noise made as basketball players cut and move about the court, the constant thump of the ball, the cheerleaders cheering their team, and the coaches prowling their sideline urging their players to action. In the stands you have grandparents, parents, siblings, alumni, school staff, and the students. Those student sections are intent on helping will their team to victory with chants, cheers, and signs. But are these chants, cheers, and signs appropriate and in-line with what the Nevada Interscholastic Association (NIAA), and the Washoe County School District, requires of its schools?
According to the NIAA website, “Only display signs that welcome opponents or that are positive toward your school/team. No signs shall be displayed that are derogatory,” and, “allow only positive cheers that boost their own team/spirit without antagonizing the opponents or the officials.”
These are not requirements being enforced in any gym in Northern Nevada (one potential exception, explained later) where student sections pride themselves on being antagonistic while trying to negatively impact the opposing team. And it is not just the opponents, we also see student sections, and others, go after officials, saying things like, “Go back to your day job,” “You need glasses,” and, “How much did they pay you?” We hear student sections go after individual players, yelling things like “You got swatted,” chanting “airball” after a shot fails to contact the rim, and overheard at a game recently, “What are you even good at?” At the conclusion of the game, once the outcome has been decided, the fans of the winning team begin the chant made famous by Utah State’s basketball fans:
Is that a score board?
Yes, that is a scoreboard.
Is that not a (insert winning team’s score)?
Yes, that is a (insert winning team’s score)
Is that not a (insert losing team’s score)?
Yes, that is a (insert losing team’s score).
(Point to the winning team’s side) Winning team!
(Point to the losing team’s side) Losing team! (Repeat)
There are different variations of this chant, but you get the idea. Why are our schools allowing these abusive public displays when they do not allow such abusive public displays during the school day? Imagine students that are passing a class pointing to students not passing and chanting “passing side/failing side/passing side/failing side”. Our schools have worked vigorously to combat bullying and other forms of emotional abuse in our schools, but for some reason those efforts disappear once you enter the gym where you can be as abusive as you want. According to the Washoe County School District, “The Washoe County School District seeks to ensure a learning environment for its students that is safe and respectful, in accordance with state and federal laws.” There’s a myriad of ways students can report abuse, bullying, discrimination, or intimidation starting with by talking to a staff member or even filing an anonymous report Online or by phone. A quick read through how the District defines bullying definitely leads me to believe that the negative environment created by student sections, specifically at basketball games, falls under the aforementioned definition. So, why is this allowed?
Back in January of 2020, I authored an article for Battle Born Preps about the Riot Squad, Galena’s student section. They had made the trip to Damonte for a basketball game and had only used positive minded cheers and chants that night. It was a breath of fresh air. Galena Athletic Director Greg Sekalaris told me that he had met with the Riot Squad leaders, early in the school year, and gave them the following directions, “Nothing negative, only positive chants or cheers,” he said, “that support our team.” He said that the “You got swatted,” chant could be replaced by chanting the name of your player that just blocked the shot. He pointed out that by cheering for the player that blocked the shot, you encourage your player to do it again, whereas when you chant “You got swatted,” you are really trying to demean the opposing player which is not allowed by the NIAA. Sakelaris also said that during football season it’s easier to enforce, because the distance between the two student sections is larger, and they often do not hear what the other side is saying, but during basketball and volleyball it’s more difficult. “They are right on top of each other, they can hear everything, but we have had great success this year (2020) by explaining the expectations and having them read the NIAA guidelines for themselves,” Sakelaris said.
Now that we know it can be done, I am calling on the administrations of our schools to address this. I understand that it will be more work for them, meeting with student sections leaders, having an administrator stand by the student section to monitor what they say, and to enforce the guidelines on those students that fail to meet the NIAA requirements, but it will be well worth it, for everyone involved. The game workers will have a better experience. The officials will definitely enjoy the experience more. If they are not trying to compete with the other student section, I think the students will enjoy it better and finally, I honestly believe the players and coaches will enjoy the experience better as well. About Your Author - Lynn Ault covers high school athletics, primarily Damonte Ranch, for Battle Born Preps. Both of his kids graduated from Damonte where his wife is a teacher. When not covering high school athletics, Lynn can be found working with middle and high school students at Hope Community, a non-denominational church in south Reno.