Is Sportsmanship Declining in High School Athletics?

Sportsmanship in High School Athletics

Is It Getting Better or Worse? High School Coaches Sound Off.

You may remember seeing the video of a Texas high school football player running over an older football official at full speed during a 2021 game. The player was 18-year-old Emmanuel Duron and the referee was 56-year-old Fred Gracia. The incident occurred in an era when sportsmanship in high school athletics is increasingly under scrutiny, and everything about it was awful.

The ugly scene occurred after play had stopped. Duron had just been ejected after having been penalized three times on the same play. He had left the field and was on the sideline when something inside the 6-foot, 250-pound standout defensive end snapped. He left the sideline and ran back onto the field, with Gracia as his target. In a fit of rage, the Edinburg High School player ran into and over Gracia. The impact lifted the much smaller official off his feet and back down onto the playing field.

High school football fans are accustomed to seeing players running full speed into each other, but this was completely different.  For one, the site of a large human slamming into a smaller, lighter, and mostly defenseless person was sickening enough. But to see a high school student-athlete doing that to a game official made it incomprehensible. This was not something any of us as fans, media, or even participants would ever expect to see during the course of a high school sporting event, not even at a football game where the name of the game, fair or not, is all about controlled violence.

Fortunately, Gracia was not severely injured, although he reportedly has not returned to officiating. Duron was initially charged with misdemeanor assault for the hit on Gracia. The case has not yet been settled or gone to court.

Thankfully, occurrences like this are few and far between. But, it underscores the overall state of sportsmanship in high school athletics. No, there are not many physical altercations reported at high school or youth athletic events in the United States, but there is still a question of sportsmanship, or lack thereof, that’s always present.

You can see it between fans and game officials, and sometimes between players and game officials, although nothing like what we saw in Texas in 2021.

We asked several game officials and coaches to offer their opinion on the current state of sportsmanship in Georgia high school athletics. Their responses follow below, and you can hear more on our Next Take Georgia podcast.

Bart Shuman, Valdosta High Baseball Coach

Shuman is a longtime baseball coach in Georgia. He has served as the head coach at Valdosta High during two separate stints, as well as at Brooks County High. Here’s what Shuman had to say about sportsmanship in high school athletics:

“I’ve always thought a team’s behavior and sportsmanship is a reflection on the head coach and the staff. Kids are gonna be kids. It’s the adults and coaches who need to instill and require discipline in their programs. Coaches who require everyone in the program to ‘do right’ are usually the ones who play the game with respect and sportsmanship. We as coaches and leaders need to all teach our student-athletes sportsmanship, as well as proper discipline.”

Franklin DeLoach, East Coweta Baseball and Softball Coach

“My mind goes in a lot of different directions when I think about sportsmanship. I think in some regards it’s better, and then in some areas, it needs improving. Some of the etiquette in baseball, for example, is where I can probably best offer my opinion. I’ll give you a couple of examples: You don’t bunt for a hit on a team when you have a big lead on a team, and you don’t steal bases when you have a big lead, either. I think those are a couple of examples where I’ve seen things have gotten worse. In football, you see teams throwing the ball on teams even when they have a big lead. That’s another thing I’ve noticed has probably gotten worse.

“Now, almost every school has a game administrator present on site, and for years you didn’t have to have that, but now you do. That’s come mainly from the stands, and that’s mainly from baseball and softball. In those sports, the fans are right on top of you, and the players and coaches are within earshot. You would have fans about to fight each other, and fans heckling players and coaches. That’s when you begin to see more and more schools use an onsite game administrator. I applaud GHSA for their proactiveness with sportsmanship. They have helped tremendously.

“I think the coaches help things a whole lot when it comes to promoting sportsmanship.”

Mike Gammons, High School Football Referee and Official

Mike is with the South Georgia Officials Association. He will take the field for his 30th season next fall. Here’s what he had to say about sportsmanship from the officials’ perspective:

“If teams lose, we are the first ones to get the blame. There are a lot of spoiled adults who are not making a very good impression on the kids. The players are seeing the pros and even college players misbehave, and they think that is acceptable. They see the pros dance and they think they can do that after scoring a TD, but they forget in high school that’s an unsportsmanlike penalty, and If a player gets two unsportsmanlike penalties, they are kicked out of the game.”

High School Football Coach (Anonymous)

One high school head football coach we spoke with asked not to be identified. He doesn’t think there necessarily has been an increase in bad sportsmanship, but he does think that social media has allowed bad sportsmanship to be captured and showed over and over, giving the perception that it’s worse now than ever. He also acknowledged that poor sportsmanship from players is indeed on the rise.

“I think coaches have always been yelling at officials, and fans have been yelling at coaches and officials, but I don’t really think that part of it is any worse now than it was 25 years ago. I think social media has a lot to do with bad sportsmanship, too. Players and fans go on social media and start trash talking with each other, and that trickles over to the games.

“I will admit that the players are worse now than ever before. I think players showboat a lot more than they ever have, and that’s troublesome.”

Be sure to listen to the entire episode of Next Take Georgia here.

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