Youth football has been an essential part of coach Michael McNeil’s life for the better part of 15 years. Moving to Laurinburg approximately three years ago, McNeil watched his son Michael Jr. play quarterback for the Scotland County Park and Recreation Jets at Legion Field and has enjoyed his experiences in the local community.
As a coach for nearly two decades, McNeil (a Maryland native) has also seen the negative affect that competitiveness can have on the parents and family members cheering on their children. But with the recent debut of sportsmanship signs around Legion Field, McNeil believes that Scotland County Parks and Recreation has taken a positive step towards improving the conduct of spectators.
“Kids are a reflection of their parents, and sometimes in the heat of competition trouble will start,” McNeil said. “Not just in Laurinburg, but everywhere you see things in the news all the time. It’s important to remind adults to watch their behavior, because if they don’t learn how will the kids?”
As players, coaches and attendees walk through the main entrance of Legion Field, a sign with the slogan “Sportsmanship: Get in the game” appears, with 12 rules of conduct listed below. The rules will ring familiar to any parent that registered their child for Scotland County Parks and Recreation sports, as the same rules of conduct were printed on the receipt given to those who signed the paperwork. Parents were also required to sign a contract ensuring their commitment to behaving in a positive manner around the field of play.
The signs, which were posted last week, are the culmination of a two year effort from Scotland County Parks and Recreation encouraging adults to make their behavior a model for kids to follow.
“Parks and Recreation is trying to foster an environment around all their sports that encourages sportsmanship by emphasizing positive reactions from players and parents,” said Parks and Recreation Advisory Board chairman Page Pratt. “I’ve yet to see a season, or even a game, where a team doesn’t have to deal with adversity. Facing the stress of the situation and responding in a positive manner is probably the most valuable lesson kids can learn from a sport. The children look to the sidelines, not just the coaches, for guidance.”
In addition to the emphasis placed on the rules of conduct, Scotland County Parks and Recreation has installed other measures to ensure the continuing promotion of good sportsmanship. At the start of the sports season last year, a $1.00 entrance fee was introduced to prevent overcrowding at events and help make crowds more controllable in case an incident occurred. Park officials have also stepped up their presence around the various fields to improve response times should an argument or inappropriate behavior escalate.
For one spectator who has several family members participating in programs this year, the introduction of the sportsmanship signs gives parents little leeway to say they weren’t aware of the rules.
“It’s crucial to have these rules visible,” said Linda Smid, a guidance counsellor at Carver Middle School. Not only is Smid’s daughter Jamie an assistant coach for the Parks and Rec Vikings’ cheerleading squad, but granddaughter Kaylie Morin also cheerleads at Legion Field as well.
“The Parks and Recreation personnel has done an excellent job of stopping problems before they get started, and having the rules out here gives them something to point to if people get out of hand. There’s no excuse to not be aware of how to behave here,” she said.
Scotland County Parks and Recreation director Shannon Newton believes the conflict that arises from a spectator taking issue with referees is one of the biggest areas of concern.
“I’ve fielded many complaints about officials over the years,” Newton said. “It’s difficult because there’s missed calls on all sports levels, especially in the NFL with the replacement officials. People are going to make mistakes, so in that case the things we’ve done including putting up signs have been a long time coming. We have to maintain consistency.”
Ultimately, parents simply want to see their children succeed on the field, and the passion which stems from that can sometimes lead to unchecked emotions. Scotland County Parks and Recreation athletic director Al Blades understands that, and when he makes his way across Legion Field every evening he sees the importance of youth sports on the faces of spectators.
But he also knows that sports are meant to be fun first and foremost. And Blades hopes parents can remind themselves of that more often.
“Parents can put too much pressure on these kids to perform out here,” Blades said. “They’re still kids and they want to play for the fun of it. I think if more parents remembered how they were as children it would help improve behavior all around.”
For those interested in letting their voice be heard, Scotland County residents are encouraged to visit the Parks and Recreation website and fill out a seven question survey regarding the 2012 football and cheerleading season. The website is located at http://www.scotlandcounty.org/parks-and-recreation.aspx.