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Beyond the Score: Negative fan behavior on the rise; the steps taken to limit it

Posted at 5:36 PM, May 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-01 19:22:15-04

LUXEMBURG, Wis. (NBC 26) — In sports, emotions run high.

"We're not perfect, we all have our slip-ups," Jenny Bandow, the athletic director at Luxemburg-Casco High School, said. "I have my slip-ups once in a while when I’m watching my own kids or coaching.”

Bandow is one of many people involved in youth sports who said she is concerned with the growing trend of negative parent behavior at sporting events.

Wisconsin has had several notable incidents in recent years:

Bandow said, while she understands the emotion that comes with competition, sportsmanship is a priority at L-C.
“It means a lot to me and I think our fans know my expectations," she said. "Like when we made that run to state football, I did a lot of messaging: 'How do we want to be remembered? How do we want people to see Luxemburg-Casco?'”

Varsity sports are one thing, but Tim Marquart - a long-time referee and president of the Green Bay Officials Association - says the younger the age, the worse it can be.

“I would say the youth level sports is where we tend to see parents be more aggressive," Marquart said. "Parent behavior has not developed as well as some of the high school stuff.”

It can impact the referees and umpires but, perhaps worst of all, Marquart said it can negatively affect the players.

"I’ve seen it to where kids have actually had to stop play because they’re distracted by what’s going on outside the fence," Marquart said.

"Let the kids play the game," he added. "(These fans) are behaving in such a way where you can’t even concentrate on what’s going on.”

Marquart adds, he believes parent behavior tends to be even worse in club sports.

“The schools do a pretty good job because it’s tied to the scholastic side," Marquart said. "There’s more ramifications in the schools. When you start getting into some of the other youth tournaments, the discipline level or the consequences are not always as clear.”

Jason Wheelock, director of operations at Fox Valley Performance volleyball club, sees it the same way.

“The club world is probably… Well, it is, it’s more susceptible to that type of behavior," Wheelock said. "It really is.”

He believes the pressure to succeed and the proximity of fans to the competition both play a role.

“You get all these teams full of the best from their high schools, so the game gets more intense. It’s a higher level game," Wheelock said. "And more and more people come to these smaller little courts. So you’ve got a couple hundred people around this one court.”

It's something his players say they have felt.

“There’s definitely parents that are very into the game," Owen Krause, a junior at Kimberly High School, said. "It can get very intense and have an effect on some of the other players.”

“You hear a parent just chirping on the sidelines and you’re more focused on the parent than on the game," Appleton North senior Jadon Ciriacks added. "It’s just one point at the end of the day."

To combat that, the Community First Champion Center, a youth sports complex in Grand Chute, implemented a unique design.

The Champion Center, which hosts major club tournaments nearly every weekend, has most of its seating located a level above its playing area.

"Coaches and officials love being separated from the parents of course," Adam Ligocki, the facility's general manager, said.

Ligocki believes the design keeps an appropriate distance between fans and competitors.

"It keeps parents and other people away from the coaches and the officials and kind of lets everybody focus on what their job is for that day and their game," he said. "Parents can be fans up top, players can be down here on the court and officials can do their jobs."

That separation can help, but it doesn't completely cut out the emotion of the game. Those involved say, a little restraint can go a long way.

“Our coaches, refs, they might not do something you agree with," Bandow said, encouraging fans to say their thoughts under their breath. "I don’t expect you not to have those feelings, but just make it enjoyable for everybody."

Untlimately, Wheelock believes it all comes back to The Golden Rule.

“I just like when human beings treat other human beings well," Wheelock said. "So if we can help kids along the way - us being the adults - then I think that’s going to help them be a better person. And I just think that’s a good thing."

Almost all parties involved in this story noted one common theme: money. Wheelock, Marquart and others believe parents are spending more on youth sports now than ever before and, because of that, they are feeling the pressure to succeed.

Note: Based on an informal survey of Green Bay-area officials, Luxemburg-Casco was one of four schools noted as having the most positive fan behavior. That is why L-C was chosen for this story.