If You Can’t Be An Athlete, Be An Athletic Supporter

Originally published January 20, 2016

I have fond memories of following my high school basketball team along the road to winning the 1980 Connecticut State Class L Boys Basketball Championships. I remember the excitement evoked by the sound of our collective voices chanting “air ball air ball air ball” when an opposing player missed a free throw. ⇓ Listen.

All our chanting and pointing and jeering was more than just rowdy behavior by a ragtag bunch of high school students. Our coordinated efforts from the student section united us with the guys on the hardwood and entitled us to a share of their success. We were “the sixth man” on that glorious roster and we were the champions!

Photo Credit: #32 Joseph Carfora

The Mighty East Haven Yellow Jackets – 1980 Connecticut Class L Boys State Champions; Photo Credit: Joseph Carfora (#32)

The whole “sixth man” phenomenon is a time-honored tradition in high school and college basketball – think Duke’s Cameron Crazies – which is why a recent decision by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association to ban “chants by student sections directed at opponents and/or opponents’ supporters that are clearly intended to disrespect,” is so stunningly idiotic, not to mention an egregious affront to the First Amendment. Don’t get me started.

Here’s the deal. Anybody with two brain cells to rub together who’s ever been to a high school sporting event – and one would imagine this would include members of the WIAA –  knows the sole purpose of any student section is to influence officials and distract opposing players. In fact, displays of disrespect toward one another by fans of contentious rivals is actually a sign of respect for said rivals’ players. Phew. It’s confusing, I know, but the bottom line is, all the chanting and pointing and jeering is harmless.

As in, H-A-R-M-L-E-S-S.

Seriously, there’s no pandemic of aging high school basketball alumni seeking treatment for PTSD as a result of overly enthusiastic fans. I do not care how athletically gifted you are, if you’re the type to have an emotional breakdown on the court every time somebody shouts “fundamentals” when you miss a lay up, you’re going to find a new hobby before pathology develops. Then, you grab a cowbell or vuvuzela and find a seat in the student section because after all, if you can’t be an athlete, be an athletic supporter.

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To all the Wisconsin high school students, you have my condolences on the death of your school spirit. Finally, since you can no longer shout…

• “Fundamentals”
• “Sieve”
• “We can’t hear you”
• “Air ball”
• “You can’t do that”
• “There’s a net there”
• “Scoreboard”
• “Season’s over” (during tournament play)

…check out these alternatives from ESPN analyst and social media savant, Jay Bilas.

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