Well, Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, you really threw up an air ball this time.

Actually, let me put it in terms that will make you cringe.

AIR BALL! AIR BALL!

The WIAA and its leadership has taken a lot of justifiable heat this week in the wake of a memo sent to schools reminding them of the group’s sportsmanship policy. Among the cheers deemed inappropriate were things like “sieve,” “scoreboard,” “go start the bus” and, of course, “air ball.”

After ridicule and derision hit the WIAA from across the country — most notable from ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, who spent an entire day mocking the WIAA on Twitter — the organization released a statement saying the memo wasn’t a new edict. Rather, it was a reminder of long-standing rules.

“The intention of the message was misconstrued and morphed into something far beyond what it was and what it was intended for,” the WIAA’s David Anderson said.

New rules, old rules, it doesn’t mater. Anderson and the WIAA still miss the point. They mistake gamesmanship and good-natured tomfoolery for poor sportsmanship.

Take “air ball,” for instance. A player wildly misses a shot, and the chant comes. It lasts five or 10 seconds, tops, and it’s gone. In the course of a game, “air ball” is a brief shower, a burp. The same can be said for “sieve” and “scoreboard.”

You know why these cheers have been around for decades? Because they’re fun, and they’re harmless. If you’re an athlete who is genuinely offended when fans chant “air ball” in your general direction you need to grow thicker skin. You also need to work on your jump shot so they can’t chant it at you anymore.

This is not to say anything goes in the realm of fan cheering behavior. Some stuff is better left unsaid. The list of things that should be off limits to fans is a short one: personal attacks, swearing or cheering for an injury. That’s it. Anything else is fair game.

Here in Maine, I’ve found most high school administrators give students a pretty long and fair leash when it comes to fan behavior. I covered a high school basketball game last season at which a fan of the visiting team complained that the students in the bleachers near her were standing, thus obstructing her view of the court.

The athletic director patiently told the fan that while he was sorry, he wasn’t going to tell the students to sit. They stand and cheer, he said, and she would either have to deal with it or move. I believe an “air ball” chant may have come from those standing students.

I have to say I do support the Maine Principals’ Association’s ban on noisemakers at high school basketball tournament games. This has less to do with sportsmanship and more to do with good taste. Nobody needs to crank a cow bell or a coffee can full of nickels for an hour and a half during a game. The next thing you know somebody has a vuvuzela or a fog horn. If you can’t make enough noise by screaming and cheering and clapping and stomping, stay home.

Rules that try to further restrict fan behavior come from adults who are more concerned with being liked by their peers than doing what’s right for students. “If I forbid these cheers, I’ll show I really support sportsmanship!”

No, you’ll really look petty. You’ll look like you’ve forgotten what it was like to be a student, that cheering for your team sometimes includes small jabs at the opponent.

You chucked up an air ball this week, WIAA. Own it. The chants will be over soon.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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</URL>Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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