Principal Singles out Student for Entire Fan Section Jeering

Robert MedoffContributor IMarch 10, 2008


It’s the championship game, and the score is tied. Time has nearly expired and the crowd is so loud that you can barely hear yourself think as you step to the free throw stripe with the game on the line. Sweat drips from your forehead and your palms have never been sweatier. The chants grow louder and louder as you prepare to take your shot.

That’s a championship game from the players’ perspective, but what about the boisterous fans' perspective?

… It’s the championship game, and the score is tied. Time has nearly expired and you’ve lost your voice from yelling the entire game. Your legs are tired from standing since the tip-off. You’re one of 1200 other fans, all screaming and hollering, desperate for your team to pull off the victory. The other team sets up to shoot. You scream your brains out, thinking and saying anything to mess them up.

From a fan’s perspective, the only thing that matters for thirty-two minutes of back-and-forth action is winning -- at seemingly any cost.

But with that said, how much is too much? When do fans go from excited enthusiasts to vulgar villains? When has a fan taken things, ‘too far'?

“Administrators are way too strict about what fans can and cannot say. They need to just let the players play, and the fans cheer how they want,” said Mt. Hebron senior and two-sport athlete Brad Wandell.

According to the first amendment, “Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech.” In that case, hypothetically speaking, a fan should be able to say what they want, when they want.

Yet federal courts have ruled on the issue of public school students’ freedom of speech, banning the use of vulgar and offensive terminology during school or school sponsored events.

The most recent example of the federal court ruling being upheld occurred at Mt. Hebron High School when the Vikings hosted visiting Gwynn Park for the 2A Regional Finals. Fans in the student section began simultaneously chanting, “she’s a man,” every time a certain Gwynn Park player dribbled the ball.

No warnings or requests to cease chanting were administered to the animated fans, so the chanting continued. It continued for the majority of the second quarter, and only ceased after a Mount Hebron student was ordered to leave the game by Mt. Hebron Principal, David Brown, with the explanation that he/she was the one chanting. The student was ultimately escorted off the premises by a security guard.

Brown, who is no stranger to giving students the “heave-ho” from athletic events said, “It stops the prevalence [of crude behavior]…I’ve had to remove non-students too.”

But dealing with screaming fans and tough situations when away from your home court is expected and all part of life on the road – at least to Vikings' sophomore center, Megan Schaaf. Said Schaaf, “As an athlete, you learn to deal with adversity and overcome small things like fans yelling at you. You need to be able to block out distractions to be successful.”

     The Mt. Hebron student’s ejection from the March 7 game touches on the issue of what school administrators can and should do when large groups of students act out during basketball games and other public school events. Making an example out of a single student is one way, but perhaps not the most effective method.

“As a fan, it is disheartening to see a fellow classmate be so unfairly reprimanded for something everyone was doing,” said Mt. Hebron senior Joe Meyler.

For a good portion of the game, fellow students repeatedly chanted for the ejected student to be brought back, visibly upset to have seen their classmate singled out for what the entire student section had been doing.

Perhaps addressing the cheering section over the public address system or warning them that their offensive chanting would lead to more fan ejections would have been a more effective method than making an example out of one student.

Ejection seems more like a last result than a starting point. Yet hindsight always seems to be 20/20.

With no end to competitive sports in sight, cheering and jeering will remain an integral aspect of high school sports. But, for better or worse, with the cheers and jeers comes principals' responsibilities of deciding who remains on the guest list during each game.