Sportsmanship is an undeniable key aspect of interscholastic athletics, and the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) has a unique, multi-dimensional approach to ensure that its member schools, students, players and spectators understand its importance.
The MIAA has established five Pillars of Education Athletics with sportsmanship being on top of the list, followed by coaches education, community service, wellness and leadership.
There is a philosophy at the MIAA that interscholastic athletics is an extension of the classroom and with that comes the education component of sports participation. Student-athletes are taught what sportsmanship is and are expected to practice it.
“Our mission is educational athletics and to teach values,” said Phil Vaccaro, MIAA assistant director. “Being in an athletic surrounding, athletic venues, the values we need to promote are sportsmanship, ethics and integrity. These values are not to be thought of as ‘sometime things,’ but instead ‘every time things.’”
The MIAA has been a leader in promoting sportsmanship at the high school level and often collaborates with other state associations on programs and initiatives. One example was the development of the MIAA Sportsmanship Manual in which several states were acknowledged for helping with the publication.
The 51-page PDF document defines what sportsmanship means and how each person associated with an athletic program or event – from the school administrators to players to members of the media – can promote and support good sportsmanship.
“It is like a rule book,” Vaccaro said of the manual’s content. “If you leave one thing out people will think we don’t care about that, so we try to get as much in there as we can. When I was an athletic director and I had someone misbehave at a game, I would bring them in and tell them to ‘look this over, I think you missed pages (X-Y), which might be helpful.’”
Demonstrating good sportsmanship may not be engrained in everyone. For this reason the MIAA offers education opportunities to learn the right and wrong way to act. This is accomplished through its annual summit, Anti-Defamation League’s respect workshops and various meetings, as well as promoting it through school-based initiatives.
The MIAA offers its support in providing speakers during preseason sportsmanship meetings that take place at the local level. These are seasonal gatherings among administrators, coaches, representatives of athletic teams, and parents where there is discussion about the educational outcomes for each athletic program.
Demonstrating the importance of what sportsmanship means in Massachusetts, the MIAA has teamed up with high-profile partners for its team sportsmanship awards.
“We have a sportsmanship alliance with (Boston area) professional sports teams,” Vaccaro said. “The Celtics, Bruins, Red Sox and Patriots will honor teams in each sport that win our Team Sportsmanship Award.”
Also, each year the MIAA hosts a Sportsmanship Summit, which is held at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots. The annual event was established more than 20 years ago and is designed to honor, educate and celebrate those who make sportsmanship a priority. More than 1,000 people attend the event each year, including about 700 students. “We are constantly thinking of ways to get sportsmanship, ethics and integrity flashed in front of people,” Vaccaro said. “Everybody knows what the Nike symbol stands for; everybody knows what the Coke can looks like; we are trying to get the word ‘sportsmanship’ to be out there in everyone’s view.”
During the one-day event, several awards are distributed and presentations are given, including the Student Sportsmanship Essay/Multimedia Contest. The winner in each category will receive $400 and the runner-up is awarded $200.
Justin Kerhulas from Saint John’s Preparatory School penned a first-place essay, which he presented during the 2013 summit, and he closed the piece fittingly.
“Good sportsmanship is just as important as how you play the game, whether you’re winning or losing. My team rallied back in the tournament, but did not hold onto the top spot, yet we did hold our heads high.”
For more detailed information about the MIAA’s involvement with sportsmanship, visit www.miaa.net and select sportsmanship under the educational athletics tab at the top of the page.
Jason Haddix is coordinator of sports at the NFHS after serving internships in the Publications / Communications Department. He is a 2013 graduate of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis where he earned a bachelor’s degree in medical imaging and a certificate in journalism.