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No Elbows on Sportsmanship Day

March 7, 2000

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ Six seconds were left in the basketball game, and Craig Sundberg was sure his team would win. Then the eighth-grader felt a push from an opponent.

``He didn’t have to do that to get his point across, like he’s better than people even though people don’t think he is,″ he said.

Sundberg, a student at Independent Day School in Middlefield, Conn., could have shoved back. Instead, he walked away.

That attitude is what National Sportsmanship Day promotes.

The event Tuesday, sponsored for 10 years by the Institute for International Sport in South Kingstown, tries to teach students from elementary to college level that elbowing opponents, criticizing teammates and trash-talking to referees is poor behavior.

About 12,000 people around the world participate through conferences, essay contests and Web chats. The institute has a campaign called ``The No Swear Zone,″ which asks young athletes to pledge to stop using profanity.

The event isn’t just for young people. Overzealous coaches and parents need to change their ways as well, organizers say.

``Parents are yelling at the referees because they made a bad call or they’re yelling at the coach because they’re not playing little Johnny or they’re yelling at their own kids, too,″ said David Brennan, who directs the event.

``The parents are the real role models. They are the ones the kids are spending 90 percent of their time with. It’s not Dennis Rodman on the TV.″

Organizers encourage students to talk about their struggles in sports.

``I kind have some troublemakers on some of my teams, like wiseguy know-it-alls,″ said Nicholas Fede, a fifth-grader at Quidnessett Elementary School in North Kingstown, where students participated Tuesday in a chat room on sportsmanship.

``They act like they’re cool and they make fun of me. I just get by and I don’t listen to them.″

For Sundberg, another problem is overeager coaches who try to play the game for their players. He said it takes a toll on the students.

``It just puts you down,″ he said.

In the chat room, participants wrote Tuesday that ``bad sports are not fun to be with″ and said Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker was a ``jerk″ for making offensive comments about gays and minorities.

Communities around the country are trying to address the problem. In Jupiter, Fla., parents were required to attend a sportsmanship class. The parents were to sign a code of ethics promising to set a good example for their children.

The institute also tries to address such issues as the disparity between the number of black athletes and black managers, and coaches who refuse to suspend their top player.

Caitlin deWilde, an eighth-grade basketball player at Independent Day School, recalled how she grew angry recently with referees.

``We were just getting pushed and it was an unfair advantage,″ she said.

But even though she felt her frustration mounting, she knew better than to lash out.

``You can’t go talking back to the ref,″ she said.

___

On the Net: http://www.internationalsport.com.

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