Families & the Community

Unsportsmanlike Conduct: How Can Schools Control Parents at Sporting Events?

By Bryan Toporek — February 04, 2011 2 min read
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The Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh recently sent letters to 100 Catholic elementary schools in the region, warning that parents who can’t control their behavior would be banned from athletic events, according to an article in yesterday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The letter, according to the Post-Gazette, was sparked by two separate incidents in the diocese’s Catholic school basketball league. While the letter doesn’t mention specifics, both incidents involved one student accusing another of using a derogatory term; after each incident, parents and fans reportedly yelled and argued.

The letter was written by Ronald T. Bowes, the athletic director for the Pittsburgh Catholic Schools. In the letter, Mr. Bowes wrote that the participants in Catholic school sports “should at all times be primarily concerned with Christian principles, good sportsmanship, and treating each other as Christ taught us.”

He also implored parents and coaches to maintain a “consistent Christian ethic” at sporting events, saying that the adults should attempt to calm the situation instead of escalating it.

The problem of controlling unruly parents at their child’s sporting event certainly isn’t new to 2011. It’s been more than 10 years since a fight between two parents at a youth hockey practice turned deadly, yet the National Alliance for Youth Sports saw no dramatic decrease in parental violence at youth sporting events after the fatal incident.

And the student-athletes themselves are privy to this negative parental behavior, as evidenced by this six-minute YouTube video: “What Kids Wish Their Parents Knew About Sportsmanship.”

This article from the American Association of School Administrators speaks to the spread of parental outbursts in youth sporting events, suggesting that taming uncivil behavior by parents is becoming an unavoidable initiative for school districts.

For instance, in the early 2000s, the New Castle County Football League in New Castle, Del., forced parents to attend mandatory training classes before their children could receive the necessary football equipment. The league noticed positive results: After averaging 10-15 incidents of parental sports rage in previous seasons, it saw only one or two after instituting the mandatory parental training.

But the question remains: What can schools do to prevent negative parental behavior at sporting events on a widespread scale? Should schools force parents into mandatory training to prevent such incidents? (That’s probably a tough sell in this economic climate.) Should athletic directors be sending reminders to all district parents about what behavior will and will not be tolerated? Or should schools exercise the right to throw out and/or ban unruly parents from sporting events?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.