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Schools proactive in addressing fan behavior

Santa Rosa police officers Steve Merical keeps an eye on the game during the girls basketball game held at Santa Rosa High School, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013.

CRISTA JEREMIASON/ PD
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 9:38 p.m.

At the NBL basketball playoff game Tuesday night between the girls of Santa Rosa and Maria Carrillo, three school administrators from Santa Rosa, two from Maria Carrillo and an uniformed city police officer were present.

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Santa Rosa police officers Steve Merical keeps an eye on the game during the girls basketball game held at Santa Rosa High School, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013.

CRISTA JEREMIASON/ PD

Usually at a girls basketball game, according to Santa Rosa assistant principal Alan Nealley, one, no more than two administrators are in attendance to create an impression of watchfulness, an image of security.

On two gym walls at Santa Rosa were posted two large posters with the same wording: “Spectator Expectations.” These posters were mounted just for this game. Among the expectations listed were two of striking clarity: “Be A Fan, Not A Fanatic ... Refrain From Taunting, Booing, Heckling And The Use Of Inappropriate Language.”

The increased security presence and the two posters were the result of an ugly incident that happened a little more than two weeks ago. A man lost his cool in the heat of the moment, acted like a rock head, threw a bag of ice at a teenage girl basketball player. Now the people who run Santa Rosa High School were forced to expand their list of possible troublemakers.

Since the Ice Bag Incident of January 28th, which involved both schools, Nealley has met with the parents, relatives and fans of the Panther players to discuss proper behavior. Nealley recited to them “The Spectator's Code” as defined in the North Coast Section handbook.

“We always have spoken to our students about their behavior at games,” Nealley said. “Now we have something else to consider. As an administration this is something we have never done before.”

That “something' is dealing with adults, Nealley repeating and emphasizing to them what the school administrators have been preaching for years to the school's students. Nealley said it became apparent this was necessary after Carrillo's and Santa Rosa's game Jan. 28th. In the game's last seconds, a collision under the basket between Santa Rosa's Maddie Taylor and Carrillo's Mikaela Francis resulted in Taylor hitting the floor. A man in the stands picked up an ice bag and hurled it at Francis, hitting her in the head. Stands emptied. Tempers were elevated. A brawl, in the offing, was averted.

Santa Rosa officials launched their investigation and within days the man was told he was prohibited from attending any Santa Rosa athletic events the rest of the school year. The Francis family declined to press charges. When Nealley met afterward with Santa Rosa parents about exhibiting proper behavior, he made a telling point beyond the recitation of “The Spectator's Code.”

“They sit directly across from the Santa Rosa bench,” Nealley said. “I said that if they act poorly, that sets a bad example because the kids can see it. The kids are watching them. That hit home (with the parents).”

Santa Rosa's reaction to the incident is very similar to the schools in the Empire. School officials became proactive.

In the upcoming March edition of the “Panther Purr,” the student newspaper, Nealley wrote about “an unfortunate incident ... that put our athletic program in an unfavorable light.” He then listed several mandates contained in “The Spectator's Code.”

Two were most relevant to The Ice Bag Incident.

“Condemn the use of violence in all forms. ... Respect officials and their decisions.”

Having to meet privately with parents and relatives to discuss proper behavior was something Nealley never anticipated.

“It's like getting hit by lightning,” Nealley said. “You never think about getting hit by lightning until you get hit. Then you think about making sure it doesn't happen again.”

Santa Rosa certainly doesn't want to go through something like this again. The incident is embarrassing, to the school, to the players, to the adults and to the guy who threw the bag of ice, who declined to be interviewed for this column. The story received a lot of traction for the uniqueness of it and while it contained much fodder for discussion, perspective is also necessary at this moment.

“You hear stories about what happens in other places, like knife fights and drive-by shootings,” said Alan Petty, athletic director at Elsie Allen. “Our level of disagreement here is usually words. It's one of the reasons I like living in Sonoma County. We don't have knife fights and drive-bys.” While true enough, Nealley said Sonoma County “is lagging behind the rest of the state” in unruly and dangerous fan behavior at high school athletic events. Nealley meant that as a good thing.

“But we are beginning to see a little bit of it here,” Nealley said.

Yet, the well-founded impression is still largely in place. A kid can play high school sports in the Empire without wondering if parents are on the brink of doing something that could land them in jail.

Petty cited two recent examples of school and parental awareness. Twice during Elsie Allen's boys basketball season, Elsie boys heard epithets from the opposing stands. School officials of those teams were notified, apologies immediately forthcoming, situation resolved to mutual satisfaction.

“The bar is set high here in Sonoma County,” Petty said.

That's why Santa Rosa and Nealley were so aggressive in dealing with the situation. Something positive can become of this. It's the option the adults can choose, or continue to pack an attitude.

“Hopefully it can be a learning experience,” said Santa Rosa principal Brad Coscarelli.

Hopefully. No one wins when something like this happens. There are no bragging rights. No holier-than-thou proclamations. No feeling good because the other guy was a rock head.

Rather, could this create a moment of pause for the next guy who is on the edge, who is about to lose it, who is about to smear a school's good name? The hope here is yes because if it isn't, this is just another example of Adults Behaving Badly ... and we have enough examples of that.

“We are after all an educational facility,” Nealley said of Santa Rosa High School.

“To teach adolescents, right?”

“Sometimes,” Nealley said with a smile.

For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

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