When you’re a teenager, attending high school sporting events can make or break your social status. I remember being a skinny, XL-t-shirt-wearing freshman and scaling the bleachers on Friday nights to watch my high school football team. I felt like I was climbing a social Mount Everest. The higher you climbed, the cooler you were. The seniors occupied the top level, whispering inside jokes and contemplating their moves after the game. They yelled hilarious things at the refs and opposing players, and I sat there, loaded with hot takes but not old or respected enough to yell them out.
As I got older, I climbed the bleachers. I tried yelling stuff occasionally, and because of my incomparable wit, some upper classmen would laugh, or give me a pat on the back, as if to say, “hey man, you’re actually not super weird.” Later, I became officially part of the squad. Sophomore year, we reserved a group of seats at home basketball games, calling it “Crunk Corner.” Clearly no one was cooler than us in 2005. We gyrated with energy all game long. We even spent an afternoon at a friend’s house hand-making t-shirts to wear at the next game, like a group of sports-obsessed Martha Stewarts. Who needs homework when getting into the head of a rival was clearly the higher priority?
We hooted. We hollered. We displayed a sign calling Dallas Lauderdale, then a senior at Solon High School, a “Buckeye Benchwarmer,” since he’d already committed to Ohio State. It was a proud and prophetic moment. More importantly, it legitimately made me feel part of something. It was the most fun I had as a high school student who cared a lot about what other people thought of me.
All of which is to show why what the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association is doing to its students is ludicrous. Under the guise of “defining sportsmanship,” the WIAA has banned students from doing any of the following at high school sporting events across the state:
- Booing: Chants such as “overrated,” “airball,” “scoreboard,” “warm up the bus,” and “USA.” The WIAA literally won’t let you chant the name of the country you live in.
- Holding up signs or props during player introductions, you know, in case a player who is supremely focused happens to see your dumb sign.
- Turning your back to the court or field during player introductions, a classic shenanigan favored by all student sections.
- Doing the wave. I hate the wave. I hate it with every fiber of my being. But banning people from standing up and raising their arms in a wave pattern than moves around the arena? Is this real life?
- Going bare-chested or painting your body—because who needs team spirit when you can just wear a pair of slacks and a button-down shirt, am I right?
None of the actions that Wisconsin so desperately wants to outlaw can even remotely be considered offensive. Some literally don’t make sense. It’s one thing to ban Thunder Sticks, which happened at my high school when we attempted to bang them during opponent free throws. I get that. They’re loud, obnoxious and horribly named. But chanting “USA?” Playfully turning your back as your rival high school’s team is introduced? Miss me with all of that.
Sports are an integral part of the high school experience. Attending games is not only enjoyable, but a way for kids to bond with each other and feel a part of a world that often makes them feel like outcasts. Who wants to attend a game if all you can do is sit in silence, as if you’re training to become the youngest monks in history? Where is line between curbing legitimately offensive and hateful comments and straight up babying teenagers?
In Wisconsin, apparently that line can’t be found.