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McLoughlin insists adults accompany student spectators

McLoughlin Middle School students are working to counter negative behavior that forced a change to the school’s attendance policies at after-school events for the rest of the fall season.

Principal Kelly Soter told parents last week that students are not permitted to attend athletic events and other after-school activities as spectators through October without an accompanying adult. Disruptive incidents from unaccompanied student spectators led to the decision, she said.

“We have expectations of kids at school around respect and language and conduct, and that is true for after school events too,” Soter said. “What doesn’t feel good to us is if somebody leaves an event ... with a negative perception of our school.”

Now, during what Soter called a “hard reset,” staff as well as students on the school’s leadership team will brainstorm ways to tackle problem behaviors so the policy can be lifted in time for the winter season.

Soter declined to provide specific details on the interactions that pushed the policy change at McLoughlin. They included offensive language and what she described as “blatant disrespect” toward adults who tried to intervene.

She said the students faced discipline, but declined to specify what kind.

The Bulldogs’ head-on handling of troubling conduct in the stands falls in with a larger movement in the Rogue Valley to promote positive interactions and experiences around youth sports.

In 2017, the Southern Oregon Sports Commission introduced a campaign locally called “Know Your Role,” which wraps in not only student spectators, but also parents, coaches, players and officials.

The series of public service announcements, which continue to air on KOBI Channel 5, encourage all people present at athletic events to remember the role they are there to fill.

To parents, that might mean remembering they’re not coaches. Other spectators may need reminders that they’re not officials.

Amy Tiger, the athletic director and safety coordinator for the Medford School District, said that students are exposed to a lot of unsportsmanlike behavior while watching pro and college sports. It’s up to everyone, she said, to model good behavior for students.

Middle school, Tiger said, is “a time where they’re growing ... a time when they’re challenging rules and challenging things to see how they need to behave. Our job is to teach kids what’s the correct behavior to have.”

Negative actions were what originally motivated the sports commission to kick off the Know Your Role campaign. A low point remembered by many locally came in December 2016, when an on-court scuffle at a basketball tournament at Central Medford High School culminated in a parent punching an eighth-grade athlete in the face.

Those kinds of interactions can have a depressing effect on youth sports participation, whether connected to schools or not.

The sports commission points to data showing that high rates of officials quit because of how parents treat them.

Since implementing the policy, Soter said, she’s heard from parents saying they were grateful for action against aspects of games that have put a damper on their experience.

Marta Hurley, parent to a McLoughlin student and another student at South Medford High School, said that she sees disruptive student conduct among middle school students attending high school football games. (corrected)

The Oregon School Activities Association, which oversees high school sports, has ramped up its expectations of district and school administrators for crowd behavior in recent years.

If those officials fail to restrain spectators from harassing behaviors or language described as vulgar, offensive or racially or culturally insensitive, the schools can be held responsible and face consequences from the OSAA.

Hurley thinks McLoughlin’s move is a step in the right direction.

“I ... strongly encourage more parents to accompany their children should they want to attend after-school events to help guide them in appropriate behavior,” Hurley said.

Students don’t have to come with their parent or guardian; as long as they come with an adult who will take responsibility for them, they’ll be let in, Soter said.

In the past, McLoughlin was highlighted by district officials for its emphasis on improving school culture and pride as part of its effort to boost academic achievement. Behavioral referrals also fell in recent years.

In the same spirit, the student leaders at McLoughlin are looking toward the positive: They’re planning PSAs of their own and are considering creating a seating section for students, to keep the focus on the field during games.

“Our responses is ... not meant to cause a big community commotion, it’s not meant to punish kids unnecessarily,” Soter said. “This is just an opportunity to stop, pause, reset and start fresh.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

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