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When asked to comment on the somewhat over-written and far too explicit WIAA memorandum on sportsmanship that blew up on social media and has been the subject of some criticism and outright ridicule, Menomonee Falls Athletic Director Ryan Anderson had both a cautionary tale and a happy ending to relate.

"The first fall I was here, we went to state in volleyball and it was really bad (the behavior of the Falls' fans)," he said. "Our kids were calling out the opposing players by name, by number, even hair color. It got so bad that Marcy Thurwachter (then WIAA associate director) verbally reprimanded us.

"After that, we made a huge change in our student culture."


 

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And so what started to happen in the fall 2013 before the start of the busiest athletic season of the school year and each fall since is what Anderson calls "The Fan Boot Camp."

"We have tryouts for student section leaders and the coaches (of the various sports) vote on them," said Anderson. "We bring in about 120-130 kids, teachers and coaches. It's actually fun for the kids. We try out new cheers and it's fun to see them implemented."

With that system in place, Anderson and the Falls administration appear to be trying to rein in the worst excesses and prevent any racist, sexist or direct personal attacks on opposing athletes without completely stifling the student fan base's creativity and energy.

The result has been a much different fan atmosphere and the school claiming WIAA Sportsmanship Awards for the boys soccer team's appearance at state in the fall of 2014 and the girls soccer team's appearance in the spring of 2015.

"We talk to them (the student leaders) about what is working well and what is not," said Anderson, "and we talk about what kind of themes they're going for (before a given game). See what we have to brace ourselves for (laughs)."

He noted one recent game involved having the fans bring in a couch that was placed alongside the stands for fun.

In short, Anderson is doing what the majority of athletic directors and school administrations are doing, trying to take a common-sense approach to things.

They know that the WIAA was just issuing boiler-plate recommendations as it always does before the start of every school year. The issue blew up on social media when a student/athlete from Hilbert took profane exception to the guidelines and posted her thoughts on social media, drawing a substantial suspension and creating a viral explosion.

It just blew up from there as local, state and even national media taking shots at the WIAA, some deserved and others not so much (ESPN got involved with Jay Bilas' sarcastic tweets and Scott Van Pelt offering measured commentary).

"I think it spun out of control because of a little lack of clarity," said Anderson. "These were just recommendations and not mandates."

And Anderson wanted to make it clear that there was going to be no sudden crackdown on common little digs like "air ball, air ball" or "fundamentals" (chants that had been enumerated in the detailed recommendations).

"Those things are so common; they've been around for decades," he said. "You don't want to be the person who reduces fun (at the games); you don't want to be the fun police. As we know, if they're (the kids) not attending games or other school events, they're out there doing things they probably shouldn't be doing."

And Anderson picked up on a theme that Van Pelt brought up.

It's an idea that includes acknowledging that there is such a fine line between good-natured teasing and outright bullying that in the case of well-meaning parents, teachers and coaches, sometimes overkill is employed and like Anderson noted,"the fun police" become overbearing and attendance and school spirit suffers as a result.

"These kids (student/athletes) come up through the youth levels, the club teams, the AAU squads and they're a lot tougher than we give them credit for," Anderson said. "They've seen a lot. They're resilient, tough and strong. It's not going to destroy them to hear an 'air ball' chant every once in awhile."

Which everyone heard more than once at the very entertaining Falls-Sussex Hamilton boys game held in the Charger gym on Jan. 15. Always an intense rivalry going back to the 1970s, this game had great energy, excitement and above all fan participation, said Anderson.

"Mike Gosz (Hamilton AD) told me afterward that he thought it was the best high school environment he's ever seen," said Anderson the day after the game. "And I ran into some of our students who said it was the most fun they've had a game in a long time, too.

"It was in Mike's terms what high school sports is all about."

GERMANTOWN TAKES SIMILAR APPROACH

JACK KLEBESADEL'S THOUGHTS:The Germantown AD has been dealing with huge crowds for close to a decade now as the boys basketball team has risen to a point of dominance in the state arena. "We'll occasionally call down a student leader if we know its going to be a particularly big crowd and then check with the administration if we're a little unsure about what they're doing," he said. "And if we run into an issue we'll stop it as soon as possible. But our kids are pretty clever. They take cheers (that could be deemed unsportsmanlike) and make them creative and fun. The kids are always one up with things like that."