The students walked into Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul on a sunny morning. They came from the 10 schools in the Suburban East Conference – 10 or 12 students from each school -- and their morning consisted of getting to know each other, to understand each other and have fun with each other.
If their morning pays off, attendees at Suburban East athletic events will go home with this thought: Wow, those students in the stands were great!
The SEC Sportsmanship Summit, which has been held for several years, brings together the so-called Super Fans along with team captains and cheerleaders from each school in the Suburban East: Cretin-Derham Hall, East Ridge, Forest Lake, Hastings, Mounds View, Park, Roseville, Stillwater, White Bear Lake and Woodbury. These are the students who lead their fellow students in chanting and cheering during games of all kinds; indoors, outdoors, on the field, on the ice, on the court.
The summit is a model for other conferences around the state and a discussion topic when Minnesota athletic directors gather. It’s a very good thing and more conferences should do this.
“I’m going to boast a little bit and say that I think we have the absolute best conference, not only in the metro but in the entire state,” Park athletic director Phil Kuemmel told the group. “And what we’re doing today is one of the reasons why I think we have the best conference in the entire state. It’s not just because we have good teams, but again I’m going to boast and say we have great ADs and administrators in this conference who want to do things like this to continually make things better.”
As the groups from each school arrived, each student was given a colored wrist band, corresponding to specific tables as a way to bring students from different schools together.
“You get to meet people who are just like you,” Forest Lake activities director Joel Olson said.
There was plenty of fun. The students played a game called “Giant, Wizard, Elf” which is much like “Rock, Paper, Scissors” but much more fun. There was a demonstration of a fan chant/dance called “Go Bananas!”
The meeting was led by MSHSL associate director Jody Redman and Cretin-Derham Hall faculty member Tom Cody, who also works with an organization called Top 20 Training. Redman and Cody guided wide-ranging discussions, all focused on helping the students understand how important their role is and how they can make a positive difference.
They talked about sportsmanship and treating people with respect …
--Just because a fan pays to attend a sporting event, they don’t have the right to act badly.
--Fans should focus on what they can control, including their behavior. They cannot control things like officials’ calls and players’ abilities.
Cody laughed about the common practice of students holding up newspapers as a way to ignore the introduction of the opposing team’s starting lineup.
“That’s so 1940s. Your grandma did that,” he told the students. “Let’s get clever if we’re going to be funny.”
The students learned about “mob think,” which is when people feel empowered when they are part of a large group. He used the example of a snowman on someone’s lawn; if one student walks past nothing will happen, but if a group of students walks past, that snowman is likely to be destroyed.
The students discussed behavior that goes over the line … and where that line is. Any kind of harassment clearly is over the line, but what about specific chants? This type of discussion gave the students things to think about when they are leading their fellow students in the stands.
“This is about being dignified and competitive,” Cody said.
As the meeting was winding down, the students realized that they are all alike even though they live in different areas, attend different schools and have different friends.
The meeting ended with students standing up and talking about what they had learned. Their comments included …
--“I met so many great people today.”
--“Everybody is really nice; we are opposing teams but we really welcome each other.”
--“This is our conference and we can do this together.”
At that point, pizza was delivered and a whole bunch of friends – old and new – sat together, talked and laughed.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 90
*Miles John has driven: 1,922
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn