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To Stem Violence, Alaska Puts Hockey on 1-Year Probation

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In February, a high school hockey player assaulted an official during the state championships in Alaska.

For the frustrated officials who oversee interscholastic sports in the state, that was enough. This month, the Alaska School Activities Association drew a line in the ice. The organization placed interscholastic hockey on a one-year probation.

"Everyone is watching it, and we will do what we can to get it back in control again," said Gary Matthews, the executive director of the association. "If it doesn't happen, then hockey is done. We will no longer sanction hockey after this year."

The probation represents one of the strongest actions taken by a state athletic association in recent memory to stem the growth of violence and unsportsmanlike conduct in interscholastic sports.

"Lest we forget, this is supposed to be educational athletics," said John R. Johnson, the director of communications for the Michigan association.

He and other educators believe their efforts to teach good sportsmanship are often thwarted by the flamboyant acts of misconduct and violence that bring some professional athletes so much publicity. For example:

  • In March, Dennis Rodman of the National Basketball Association's Chicago Bulls butted a referee in the head.
  • In April, Nick Van Exel of the Los Angeles Lakers shoved a referee, and Dino Ciccarelli of the National Hockey League's Detroit Red Wings punched an opponent in the face.
  • In New York City's Shea Stadium on May 11, baseball's Mets and Chicago Cubs brawled after Mets pitcher Pete Harnisch swung at the Cubs' catcher.

"We have to put our people on notice that what they see almost nightly in professional sports, and often at the major-college level, just isn't acceptable in educational classrooms, and that's what this is," Mr. Johnson said.

Alaska isn't alone in adopting tougher measures to deal with a worsening problem that officials of many state governing bodies fear can no longer be addressed by education campaigns alone.

They say unsportsmanlike conduct has permeated high school society, whether it's boys or girls, basketball or hockey, or city, suburban, or rural school districts.

'Trash Talk'

During the girls' state basketball championships in Michigan this year, an angry female coach threw a chair across the court. In the state finals, a television producer had to silence the court-level microphones because of the torrent of "trash talk" by the female players.

After a particularly tumultuous year, the Michigan High School Athletic Association enacted new rules this month to safeguard officials and maintain order. Under the new standards, a coach or player who aggressively makes contact with an official will be barred from postseason play.

A coach who was ejected from two or more games during the regular season would be prohibited from coaching that sport in tournament play. Three ejections, and a player is out of postseason play for the year. And those individuals won't even be allowed to sit in the stands.

In the upcoming school year, Michigan will also publish the names of coaches who engage in unseemly behavior, as well as those whose records are unblemished.

That approach is akin to strict measures adopted by the Iowa High School Athletic Association, which now rates all its schools on sportsmanship every year. News organizations in the state have published the lists.

State associations also want school administrators to become more involved in athletic events--especially in sports like hockey, where games often take place away from school grounds. "It seems that sometimes people at school don't know what is going on at the hockey matches," Mr. Matthews of the Alaska association said.

"Where it starts is with strong leadership in our schools," Michigan's Mr. Johnson said. "Expectations," he said, "have to come down from boards of education right down the line" to students and the community.

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