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Concerns arise over behavior of adult fans at high school games

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Moorhead fans applaud a basket Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, at Moorhead High School. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service2 / 2

FARGO — Referee Dave Klundt was looking to get things off on the right foot at the Tuesday night, Feb. 27, conference quarterfinal game between the Shanley and Fargo South High School boys basketball teams.

"Put the ball in the hoop, have fun tonight. Good luck," Klundt told the boys at tipoff.

Klundt has seen a lot in his 36 years of officiating college and high school sporting events.

He's been up close for the best in sportsmanship, when athletes help a player from the opposing team up from the floor or compliment them on a nice play.

He's also seen the worst.

"Sometimes, unfortunately, the parents are emotionally involved and don't have that same perspective," Klundt said.

Two recent incidents involving adult fan behavior in North Dakota and Minnesota have some schools fine-tuning their sportsmanship policies.

In mid-January, a few hostile parents got the best of Scott Stanfield, high school boys basketball coach in Brainerd, Minn. Stanfield said he and his staff will resign after this season, mostly citing those parents who are angry over their child's lack of playing time.

In late January, the Sargent Central School in Forman, N.D., received complaints about an unruly fan who yelled inappropriate criticism at certain basketball players. Athletic director Julie Colemer notified school parents and the public that she and her staff would start strict enforcement of a yellow card-red card system. Instead of being asked to leave after two yellow card warnings, unruly fans get a red card on the second warning and are automatically ejected.

Colemer said she hasn't issued a single card to a fan since.

"We just really reiterated that we are going to follow through on this, and it's been much, much better," she said.

Parents 'investing' in sports

Fans at the Shanley-South game said they take notice of poor sports in the stands.

Zach Sandy, a Shanley freshman who plays hockey and baseball, said his school does a good job of reminding students about sportsmanship. "Kind of like keep it to yourself and remember that we represent Shanley wherever we go," Sandy said.

Mike Conzemius of Fargo said the players are generally good sports, but that's not always true of their parents. "I think sometimes they get maybe over-reactive," Conzemius said.

Sports fans have always been passionate people, according to athletic administrators at Fargo and Moorhead public schools, and unruly behavior comes with the territory at times.

"It is our job to make sure that we address the negative situations as they arrive to keep them from escalating," said Dean Haugo, athletic and activities director for Moorhead schools.

Across the river, Fargo's District Director of Student Activities, Todd Olson, said this generation of athletes' parents is probably more invested in sports than the previous generation would ever have considered. Many parents have poured a lot of money into special camps, strength and agility programs for their kids, and they expect something back.

Olson said the reality, though, is that only 2 or 3 percent of kids participating will get a college athletic scholarship.

"There are probably better investments to make than investing in sports with that projected return," Olson said.

Cheering for instead of against

Olson said school principals in the Eastern Dakota Conference who had grown tired of being embarrassed by fan behavior met in 2012 to come up with uniform sportsmanship guidelines, including clamping down on profanity and any threatening gestures toward an official, as well as keeping an eye on props, such as whiteboards, to be sure there's nothing inappropriate written on them.

Another focus was on fans cheering for their team instead of cheering against the other team. For example, the "air ball" chant used to go on and on. Now, it's supposed to stop after two chants.

The changes have made a difference.

"I rarely go to a game now in Fargo and feel bad when I leave because somebody was misbehaving," Olson said.

Over in Moorhead, Haugo said it's unusual to have an unruly fan situation escalate. "Most cases come to a quick end when the behavior is addressed," Haugo said.

Klundt has learned to let any criticism from coaches, players and fans roll off his back.

"We want to get every call right if we can, but we're human beings, so unfortunately, we're not going to," the ref said. "The day I have a perfect game is the day I'm going to retire."