People Editor and Opinion Editor
Athletics are an integral part of a school’s culture; games are a way for athletes, students, and families to rally together and foster community. It is exciting to see rowdy fans dressed in school colors and passionately cheering on their teams at any sports game. During games this year, kids at LGHS packed into the student section at basketball, football, field hockey, and other sports games, cheering on their fellow classmates from the bleachers as they took home wins for the school. While fans generally maintain good behavior, there are instances of heightened emotions, causing sports fans at LGHS to go too far and creating a negative environment. Though some think that fans heckling other teams is ultimately harmless, others feel that the crowd’s booing and negativity is inherently a problem. Students need to acknowledge that their behavior does have lasting effects. Overall, cheering that offers support rather than disparages the opposition is more beneficial to players and helps create a more positive atmosphere at sporting events.
Historically, booing and heckling have simply been part of the game for both players and fans. Some players might find it helps their ability in-game, as it immerses the players and raises the stakes for their team. Considering his various perspectives as a spectator, a former student-athlete, and the LGHS basketball coach, Matthew Holm expressed that “you almost enjoy getting the attention of the opposing crowd and you enjoy when they’re focused on you because it is almost inspiring or motivating.” He also acknowledged that crowd behavior sometimes turns disrespectful but noted, “my observations seem to be that it is less effective than people think, and that more often than not, the other players enjoy being the focus of the attention.” Senior Catherine Candelaria, who is on the Varsity girls’ basketball team also felt that heckling does not really affect her team and explained that “we just think of it like let’s move on, let’s get past it, let’s keep playing our game and enjoying it.”
Everyone has a varied perception of what behavior is acceptable at a sports game. For example, most would agree that friendly banter is okay, but kids cross the line between friendly and rude when they begin to single out opposing players. Our different perspectives on acceptable behavior at sporting events does not excuse the fact that we foster a culture of negativity by booing at referees, attempting to confuse or disrupt players, calling players out by name, or cursing at individual players. While these actions do have good intentions — simply to support the school — LGHS sports fans create a negative environment when they are rude towards the opposition rather than positive towards their own team.
LGHS Athletic Director Ken Perrotti recognized that some students display poor sportsmanship at games when they “come to high school sporting events and treat it like a professional sporting event where you can hack all these professional athletes who are getting paid millions of dollars to play a sport.” He advises students to treat high school athletic events more like a classroom: “If you wouldn’t say it in the classroom, you probably shouldn’t be saying it at a high school sporting event.” He also hopes LGHS students will examine the greater effect of their actions in how it can encourage and contribute to a “wolf pack mentality” of negativity, which self-perpetuates and is hard to correct. Cheerleaders at LGHS try to work on making the atmosphere more positive by diverting the negativity. Senior Ishbel Slater reflected, “as a cheerleader, our job is to make sure that it’s an enthusiastic [and supportive] environment for [our teams]…we started cheer to divert negative attention to encouragement and stuff for the team [which] gets hard to do when [negativity] is just a constant.”
Sportsmanship influences what happens off of the field as well. Perrotti referenced “incidents of students using [and abusing] substances in the parking lot before a game and then coming into the game under the influence.” Substance use contributes to an unruly, disruptive environment in the stands which then encourages further substance abuse, creating a detrimental cycle. Besides contributing to unruly behavior, students under the influence endanger their own safety and the safety of those around them. This behavior is unacceptable; Perrotti explained, “we want our students to show up, but we want them to do it in a safe and responsible way.”
Poor sportsmanship also contributes to athletes’ ability to play games. Sports programs are experiencing a shortage of referees, in part due to COVID affecting their availability, but also because many referees have decided to opt out. Holm attested, “it’s not a great experience to get paid a few dollars for two hours of running up and down the court and getting screamed at, and always being wrong, no matter what. [Refereeing] is a thankless job because if you do it well, you’re invisible, but if you are perceived to make mistakes, then you become the target of ridicule.” Referee shortages have hindered LGHS basketball teams, which have rescheduled several games in order to have enough officials.
More than that, sportsmanship shapes the perception of our school and its students. School events, especially athletic events, represent our student-athletes, our student body, and the entire community of Los Gatos. Allowing negative behavior to go unchecked shapes how others perceive our community. Perrotti asserted that sportsmanship is a “number one issue” because “athletics is oftentimes like the front porch of a school. It’s the most public part that everyone sees.”
Regardless of your stance on what is acceptable behavior at a high school sports game, cultivating a more positive culture creates a better environment for our athletes, our students, and our community. Holm recalled, “thinking back to my experience in high school, the most fun that we ever had was when we did chants that were about us, rather than chants that were about the opposing teams…[In an ideal culture] it’s an intention among all of us to celebrate the positive things…to draw attention to the positive things which blossoms into an environment that is more supportive of our athletes than disrespectful.”
Our student body must foster this kind of change from within. We build our school culture not through declarations from and enforcement by our administration, but from the countless acts taken by each member of the crowd. As members of the LGHS community, we must acknowledge our contribution to our culture by maintaining respect for our team members, other schools’ athletes, and referees.