By Eileen Persike
Student cheering sections at athletic events have become the focus of national and social media attention this week. ESPN, Sports Illustrated and other outlets have published stories referring to a Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Association (WIAA) rule which they say forbids students from chanting certain slogans.
Does that mean “air ball,” “scoreboard,” “fundamentals” will no longer echo throughout Jim Miazga Community Gym? Not necessarily, according to School District of Rhinelander Activities Director, Brian Paulson. The chant reference, he said, has been part of the WIAA sportsmanship policy since 1997.
“I think everyone in the state has been doing this, keeping an eye on student behavior,” Paulson said. “Plus, the sportsmanship policies are guidelines about expectations. We have allowed those chants in the past.”
The Rhinelander school district has a code of conduct for student athletes, but not for fans. Paulson said he appreciates the WIAA stressing sportsmanship. Rhinelander students are not allowed to make comments or chants that are degrading to an athlete, and when someone crosses a line, it is addressed right away.
“What I like to see is a good atmosphere where our students demonstrate good school spirit,” he continued. “I want the students to represent Rhinelander—the students, the school and the community, well. Be respectful. Rhinelander is a great place.”
Another point Paulson emphasized is that the WIAA is made up of all the school district athletic and activities directors in the state, and when someone calls out the WIAA, they are calling them out.
“We are all members. We make the rules that are passed by the governing board,” he said. “If something needs to be changed, it’s the members who bring it up, and then vote on it and majority rules.”
Attention was drawn to the sportsmanship policies in December, Paulson said, when the WIAA sent a reminder email to athletic directors. Through an all-school announcement made to students at one northeast Wisconsin school, the nearly two-decade old rule came into focus. It became national news this week when a female basketball player was suspended for several games because of a derogatory comment she directed toward the WIAA on social media. The athlete faced suspension, Rhinelander’s Paulson said, for violating the school’s code of conduct, not from the WIAA.