In a little less than a month, football season will be under way and high school teams will be cracking helmets together on area fields every Friday night.
This year, school authorities want the competition to remain on the field while keeping the atmosphere clean in the stands.
The Hall County school system has developed guidelines for fan behavior to keep the cheering positive and less nasty this coming school year. A system subcommittee that evaluated policies on recruitment, sportsmanship, academic eligibility and fan behavior soon will release comprehensive rules for coaches, players and those who attend the games.
Visiting teams who come to Hall for sporting events will be given a questionnaire afterward to determine how they were treated by the local folks. Anyone creating problems in the stands will be kept away until they can learn how to control their actions.
It's a shame this kind of move has become necessary, but it is. In recent years, fan behavior in some cases has gone well beyond cheering for the home team. Derisive and derogatory comments directed toward the visitors has spoiled the gameday experience for many and led to these steps.
It's hard to say why this has occurred. Perhaps our current political culture of confrontational name-calling has spilled over to the sporting arenas. And part of that may be a sports culture that celebrates individual showboating and celebrity worship over sportsmanship. For whatever reason, it has gone too far.
It's important for everyone to remember that the fans who visit from other schools, whether they are from just up the road or the other side of the state, are just like us. Their athletes are teenagers looking to give their all, just like ours. Their parents are there to root their kids on, just like ours. There's no need to turn an athletic event into some kind of warfare between towns or counties.
Let's also keep in mind that the greeting many visitors encounter when they come to our county can have a lasting effect. Hall and other surrounding counties rely on tourism as a key industry. If visitors from another county have a positive experience while they are here for a game, they might come back and spend money. But if they and their kids encounter ugly fan behavior, they will not look upon our area favorably when it's time to pick a destination for a day trip.
The same goes for how officials are treated by fans and coaches. No one likes a blown call, and it's fine to boo and hiss when you don't like it. But to go beyond that and hurl personal insults at fellow human beings over a ballgame is not civilized behavior and can't be condoned under any circumstance.
Quite often, the animosity stems from the rivalry between local schools and fans. And to a certain point, rivalries are rather harmless and add spice to the game. Some schools have a long history of competition and that leads to a heightened sense of "us" and "them" in the stadiums and gyms. And in some cases, the rivalries are stoked by the increased number of players who transfer from one school to another, for whatever reason.
But it can go too far. Too many people check their common sense and compassion at the turnstile. Whatever one thinks of the school, team or players on the other side, they are still our neighbors, co-workers and fellow North Georgians. Don't let the emotional nature of a ballgame drive us to behavior we wouldn't dare consider in our everyday lives.
Sports are supposed to be fun, for the participants and the spectators. When a few rowdy folks decide to turn it into their own little angry tirade, it ruins the experience for others. Sportsmanship and common sense should be more prevalent. Parents who act appropriately set a better example for their children.
We can't control how our players, coaches and fans may be treated when they leave Gainesville and Hall County to play elsewhere. But we can create a positive atmosphere at the games in our arenas, for ourselves and our guests. Let's make sure that the folks who come here to see the games and spend a little money enjoy some Hall County hospitality and leave with a good impression, win or lose.