KVAC looks at evolution of sportsmanship due to technology

Posted Nov. 15, 2010, at 6:40 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 15, 2010, at 7:44 p.m.

LEWISTON — The fundamentals of sportsmanship don't change much over time.

But the ways in which the best, and sometimes worst, of sportsmanship are expressed are evolving rapidly due to changing norms within the athletic arena and the latest in technology from cell phones to social networking platforms on the Internet.

Some 220 student-athletes, coaches, school officials and parents from 28 Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference schools used one of the most basic forms of communications — small-group discussions — to bridge the gaps between them on all issues sportsmanship-related at Lewiston High School on Monday.

"I came down here to find out what other kids think about sportsmanship, what their opinions are and what their schools do about it," said Cooper Antone, a Hampden Academy sophomore. "I learned a lot."

The 2010 KVAC Sportsmanship Summit was the first of its kind held in 10 years by a conference that ranges geographically from Bangor to South Paris and from Farmington to Bath.

"The most important part of today is just hearing what the kids think," said Doran Stout, athletic administrator at Erskine Academy of South China and chairman of the KVAC sportsmanship committee. "Some of us are a little beyond our teenage years and don't think like teenagers anymore, and things have changed."

Among issues addressed was the impact of text messaging, e-mail, Internet chat rooms and social networking platforms such as Facebook and MySpace on interscholastic sports. Both good and bad influences were found, the good including access to more information about teams and the chance to enhance friendships with other student-athletes, the bad including Internet trash-talking among athletes or fans — often anonymously.

"There are some issues, but I don't think it's as big a problem as some people think it is," said Anna Budrow, a senior three-sport athlete at Lincoln Academy in Newcastle. "Yeah, people trash talk on the Internet where they might not say it face-to-face with someone else, but trash talk is everywhere, it's been part of sports forever, and the thing I keep saying is people need to have pretty thick skins if they want to participate in sports, especially at a varsity level because there's going to be people who don't like you or don't like your team or have heard bad things and are going to say stuff. You just have to know how to take it and maybe use it as motivation, as opposed to getting all upset about it."

Stout is more wary of the potential down sides of technology's impact on sportsmanship, citing a colleague's story about attendance at a recent baseball game between rivals.

"If you go to a high school baseball game, you're usually lucky if there are 100 people there, and (the athletic administrator) shows up that day and there's 300 or 400 people," Stout said. "He asked someone, 'What's everybody doing here?' and someone answered, they've been talking on Facebook and there could be trouble."

Learning to deal with social networks, text messaging and other technological advances as they relate to interscholastic sports and sportsmanship is an ongoing process.

"There's a lot more media involvement right now," said Brewer High athletic administrator Dennis Kiah, "outside issues like social networking that wasn't there before. A few years ago they didn't even have computers, and now there are a lot of issues that are outside our control as athletic administrators and schools, so we're just looking for help to know that we're teaching the right values and that the student-athletes are displaying the kind of values that we want to get out of an extracurricular activity."

Another issue prompting discussion was the impact of fans, including parents, on the games the student-athletes play. While some have seen a calming in some of the heated rivalries of the past, the hostility sometimes heaped upon coaches, game officials and even other players can be an uncomfortable part of the competitive experience.

"People in the stands can be bad no matter what season it is," said Budrow. "There are a lot of issues around that really. Parents can be brutal, and there's not much you can do about it because they're adults and you can't really reprimand them unless you kick them out of the stadium. We talked about that at our table a lot, and it's hard for athletic directors to handle that kind of situation."

Participants also heard from keynote speaker John Jenkins, a nationally acclaimed motivational speaker and the former mayor of both Lewiston and Auburn.

"The students will give us a lot more today than we'll give them," said Stout. "But I want them to hear what some of the adults here are thinking, too. At the beginning of this I was a little hesitant, because if 15 minutes go by and people are just staring at each other, I don't have a whole lot of other entertainment for them. But it looked like everyone was engaged and everybody was getting a chance to talk, and that's a success as far as I'm concerned."

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