Wisconsin's high school sports association has found itself as the butt of quite a few national jokes in the last week relating to its rules over what chants are discouraged at prep events.
WIAA executive director Dave Anderson said he regretted that the backlash against a recent reminder memo about sportsmanship has caused a distraction, but he added that he's hoping to use it as an opportunity to examine the association's policies.
In an interview broadcast Sunday on "UpFront with Mike Gousha," Anderson reiterated that a December memo that listed chants that were deemed to be unsporting didn't set out any new rules.
"There really hasn't been a new crackdown or a new mandate come down from the members to stiffen control," said Anderson, a former Sun Prairie athletic director and University of Wisconsin athlete. "That was never the case. A simple and routine reminder, the same as we do about lightning and everything else.
"But it certainly is an opportunity as we come back together again with the Sportsmanship Committee in April to look at what we have in that policy manual, those guidelines, and see if that policy manual is continuing to say what we want and say what we mean. Or if the language — some of which was put in there in 2005 — might be used or put better or differently in 2016 and 2020 and so on."
The WIAA memo to schools targeted chants directed at opposing participants and fans, specifically referencing "you can't do that," "air ball" and "scoreboard" among other often-used fan chants.
The public reaction swung heavily against the WIAA and when national media got involved, it was clear that the WIAA was losing the PR battle on the sportsmanship subject.
ESPN anchor Scott Van Pelt opened Thursday night's "SportsCenter" by commenting on the situation: "Are you for real, Wisconsin? I mean, honestly, is this a joke or something?"
He continued: "Bullying in school, it's real. Awareness as well as preventative measures of course are worthwhile. But just stop. Stop trying to protect kids from a boogeyman that, in this instance, just doesn't exist."
In the interview broadcast Sunday, Anderson said the sportsmanship guidelines are in the association's rule books because member schools asked for them.
He said they provide "a degree of uniformity across a very large membership that goes from Superior to Kenosha, from rural to urban to inner city."
The WIAA's 11-member Sportsmanship Committee formed in 1997 but didn't immediately list examples of cheers that were frowned upon. A 2005 update to the organization's Sportsmanship Reference Guide added those, Anderson said, after some schools reported differences around the state in what was considered acceptable.
"I think what we hope for is finding that balance between fun and still something that absolutely is educational," Anderson said. "If there's not a dimension of it that is educational, then it really doesn't belong connected with educational institutions. And so, my experience over recent days suggests to me in most instances, when people really understand and are willing to engage in a thoughtful and respectful conversation, we find ourselves agreeing on many more things than we disagree on."