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FHSAA drawing fine line for unsportsmanlike acts

Bad attitudes, beware.

The Florida High School Activities Association is taking aim.

With ejections and unsportsmanlike penalties on the rise in recent years, the association has set out to rid the state of poor behavior.

Fines have been adopted, suspensions have been lengthened.

The association means business.

It even came up with a corny phrase to promote sportsmanship in prep athletics: "Sport the 'tude."

You may not like the slogan, but you'd better follow the rules. Or else Students disqualified from one event for unsportsmanlike conduct are ineligible to compete for the next seven days.

Students disqualified for gross unsportsmanlike conduct ( defined as an act of a malicious and hateful nature toward an official or opponent) or for a second act of general unsportsmanlike conduct may be ruled ineligible for a period of up to six weeks.

Schools whose athletes continually get into trouble are subject to heavy fines and administrative probation.

Beginning with the second instance of a gross unsportsmanlike conduct ejection, a school is fined $250 for each subsequent ejection of that nature.

Even coaches are subject to penalties.

When one is ejected, he or she can't coach or attend their respective team's next game, and the school is fined $100.

"Hopefully, this will encourage principals to become more involved in attempting to correct the behavior of their student-athletes," FHSAA commissioner Bob Hughes said.

Hillsborough County has taken matters one step further.

It enacted a rule this year that states any student-athlete who uses an obscenity during any athletic competition is subject to a $50 fine.

The Hillsborough County School Board went so far as to require athletes' parents to sign a form agreeing to pay the fine if their cursing son or daughter is ejected.

The first victim of this policy, Tampa Chamberlain quarterback Manny Hernandez, was fined after being tackled in a preseason game two weeks ago.

Jarred from behind by a defensive player, a dazed Hernandez jumped up and blurted out some unfriendly words.

He received a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty, was ejected from the game, suspended for Chamberlain's next game and fined $50.

"Now that's a lot of penalties for an "Ouch,' " said Chamberlain's Billy Turner, a 21-year coaching veteran. "Sometimes in the heat of battle, you get hit real hard, it slips out unexpectedly, but I don't think that has anything to do with sportsmanship.

"I call it inadvertent profanity. If a player starts cursing and throwing a tantrum and it's directed at another player or coach, then that is bad sportsmanship and that player throwing the tantrum should get in trouble.

"I believe the county has good intentions, but they're just going overboard," Turner said.

Hillsborough's policy seems harsh, but perhaps such a rule is precisely what's needed to reverse an ugly trend.

"It sounds extreme, but I believe it's going in the right direction," Crystal River boys basketball coach Tony Stukes said.

"We've got to get control back. If you allow this stuff to happen and overlook it, what's next?"

Stukes, 36, has 11 years of coaching experience.

He's old enough to remember the days when words like "suck" were unacceptable, yet young enough to realize that kids are no worse than when he was in high school.

"Society has changed," he said. "Things that used to be taboo are normal now. Kids do things now that 15 or 20 years ago when I was in high school we wouldn't have done because it was wrong.

"Now it's normal, and 20 years isn't a long period of time," Stukes said. "I don't think kids are worse, I think they're allowed to get away with more."

At some point, the powers that be lost control. Cursing became commonplace, as did other incidents of unsportsmanlike conduct.

Sadly, boorish behavior has kind of become the norm.

Three years ago, a girls basketball coach and an official knocked each other down during a game. Two seasons ago, a South Florida soccer player punched a referee.

Whether or not you agree with their means of enforcement, give the FHSAA and Hillsborough County credit for trying to fix the problem.

"It's always the first to get hurt that complain," Stukes said.

"If (the rules) stay enforced it won't be a problem. It's a problem when it's not enforced everywhere. It's got to be enforced across the board."

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