AUGUSTA, Maine — Not long ago the Maine Principals’ Association had a piecemeal approach to recognizing good sportsmanship among the schools and teams that participated in its activities.
That effort began with the awarding of banners to boys and girls basketball teams at the end of each year’s tournament based on a vote of MPA’s basketball committee members, a practice that began in 1985.
The practice was extended to ice hockey in 1990, wrestling in 1991 and swimming in 2000, but similar recognition in the rest of the MPA’s 27 activities went lacking.
Today, thanks in part to input from student-athletes across the state, that is changing.
The MPA’s sportsmanship committee recently completed the second phase of a three-year effort to expand its sportsmanship banner program to all its activities, with just a few more sports remaining to be added next year.
“Three years ago we started a state student advisory council to seek input on different issues from the students,” said MPA assistant executive director Gerry Durgin. “A lot of those kids also attend the New England Leadership Council workshop each summer where there are a lot of discussions and presentations about topics like sportsmanship, social networking, student leadership and the role of team captains.
“When they came back from the workshop the question was asked why we didn’t have sportsmanship awards for all sports and why we didn’t include the regular season instead of just the tournament, and there really wasn’t a good reason why we didn’t.”
Sam Lyons, who will be a senior at Jonesport-Beals High School in the fall, is also a third-year member of that MPA State Student Advisory Council, which consists of representatives from each of the state’s eight high school conferences.
One of two council members from from the Downeast Athletic Conference, Lyons was familiar with a recent effort to involve student-athletes in selecting the recipients of similar sportsmanship awards within that conference.
Once the same topic reached the State Student Advisory Council, he said the idea of expanding the MPA’s sportsmanship program to all its activities gained the group’s endorsement.
“A lot of the kids on the committee are multisport athletes,” said Lyons, who competes in soccer, basketball and baseball at Jonesport-Beals. “We felt like it made sense to have the sportsmanship program for those other sports, too.”
The MPA began broadening its sportsmanship program during the 2011-12 school year, with banners awarded to chosen Eastern and Western Maine schools from each class in additional sports each of the last two years.
Under the new practice, Durgin said each school now gets one online vote per sport at the end of each regular season, with schools voting only for opponents on their schedule in a given sport based on sportsmanship considerations at both the varsity and subvarsity levels.
“The sportsmanship committee felt it was important for the award to reflect the entire program,” he said.
Any coach or player disqualified from a contest renders that school ineligible for the sportsmanship award in that sport.
While a coach or athletic administrator is responsible for submitting the vote, Durgin said the goal is for the selection process to be inclusive.
“We encourage the schools to have their teams sit down together at the end of the season to talk about and vote on who should win the award in their sport,” he said. “It’s important to have the kids involved in the process.”
While voting is done within a week of the end of each regular season, the awards are not presented until the state championships as a hedge against an incident occurring during the postseason that might disqualify a team.
This year, 86 banners were awarded to boys and girls teams around the state, Durgin said, with the expansion to be completed next year when several other sports including indoor and outdoor track, cross country and skiing are added to the mix.
“Obviously if you look at all the values that make up interscholastic sports, sportsmanship is a big component of that,” said Durgin. “So it’s important that we recognize that part of it in all our activities.”