There’s an old adage in sports that says, "it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game."
Hall County superintendant Will Schofield believes in that statement and he and his board members are doing something about it.
Tired of seeing and hearing all of the negative sportsmanship throughout the county and state, Schofield, along with South Hall representative Brian Sloan and North Hall representative Nath Morris, have implemented an initiative that puts more focus on the team’s demeanor that its win/loss record.
"With a great coach you can build more character in one season than a child can build in an entire lifetime in the classroom," Schofield said. "We missed an opportunity not to be intentional in the lessons that can be taught in extracurricular athletics."
According to Schofield, those lessons range from compassion to finishing what you started, and although no one event spurred this initiative, he feels it’s time Hall County took some action.
"It’s not that we think it’s awful," he said of sportsmanship county wide. "It’s just that we can do better."
In order to do so, Schofield, Sloan and Morris will set out this summer to build a committee to oversee the actions on the playing field. They won’t discipline the heat-of-the-moment skirmishes that occur during a game; what the group will be focused on is the attitudes of the players, coaches and fans on a daily basis.
"Whoever would have dreamed that you get 400 kids in an area and they think it’s OK to make fun of the ethnicity of a player on the court," Schofield said. "It wasn’t OK 30 years ago, it wasn’t OK five years ago, and I don’t care what’s happened in culture, it’s not OK today.
"Someone needs to stop the ball game and say ‘we don’t go on until that stuff stops. It’s not who we are. It’s not OK.’"
The rise in negativity at sporting events is the main reason behind the new initiative, which will be worked on over the summer and could eventually lead to a code of conduct form that every player must sign before he or she is to play a sport. The group will work with parents, coaches and players in order to ensure the program’s success.
"We’re going to partner with parents and everybody else to try and develop something more important 20 years down the line than who won a basketball game Friday night," Sloan said. "It’s got to be a multi-faceted approach. Students have to buy in, coaches have to buy in. We’re not going to put up hand-outs at the schools and change things. We’re trying to create a movement."
The two know that change won’t come easy, and they are ready to face the naysayers head on.
"The only meaningful change you can get out of a group is if they see an urgency to change," Schofield said. "Right now, they need to do a better job of looking at their own behavior and stepping back and asking themselves, ‘is this what we want to be known for?’"
The answer should be no, and Schofield wants every school in the county — even Gainesville and Lakeview Academy, which will join in the initiative — to feel that way.
"It’s going to be a county-wide push, and I hope to expand it to the entire region," Schofield said. "Everyone wants to win a Lanierland Tournament, but wouldn’t it be cool if it became en vogue to win the sportsmanship trophy?"
The idea of an award for the best sport is still one that’s getting kicked around. Sloan and Schofield don’t know how they would honor the best sports, but they know it needs to be done.
"We have to take advantage of the opportunities to award good behavior and award good things that happen," Schofield said.
He doesn’t know how or who will be deciding how that award is given, or how punishment will be rendered, but Schofield knows who won’t be involved with any of the decision making.
"We’re not interested in people who hate Gainesville to be a part of this group," he said. "I’m not interested in people that hate North Hall to be a part of this group. If that’s who you are, that’s the group we’re trying to get rid of."
One group he is targeting is one with star power.
"We want to influence the influencers," Schofield said.
And if the initiative doesn’t take, and the attitudes around sporting events don’t change, Schofield is ready to take drastic measures.
"My board can fire me for this, but there will come a point if it gets bad enough, then we just won’t play," he said. "We’ll forfeit all our games and I’ll tell our kids, our coaches and our parents that that’s not how we want to represent ourselves.
"I hope it never gets to that," he added. "But if we have to have police officers and security at schools during events, then we’ve gotten to a point where we lost the whole idea of what sports were designed to do.
"They call them games for a reason. They’re supposed to be fun."
They’re also designed to determine a winner, and for those that think sportsmanship and winning don’t go together, Schofield says to remember what former President John F. Kennedy told Soviet Premier Nikita Khroshchev at a summit in 1961: "Don’t confuse my compassion for weakness."
"You can do both, and that has to be the expectation," Schofield said. "Anybody who says that’s just namby-pamby stuff and they can’t play, they don’t get it."