High School Football

KHSAA takes ‘very visible step’ to punish out-of-control spectators

Kentucky is taking a stronger stance against unruly spectators at its high school sporting events.

The KHSAA Board of Control adopted a policy Wednesday stating that adult fans who are ejected from a sporting event should serve, at minimum, a single-event ban.

Discipline guidelines for coaches and players ejected from KHSAA events are addressed in the board’s policies and in KHSAA Bylaw 15, which governs sportsmanship. Fans are referenced in Bylaw 15 twice, but no explicit language previously existed regarding their ejections or suspensions in the aftermath of an ejection.

The new policy will go into effect for the 2019-20 school year. It was initially brought up as a bylaw addition, but that would have required a vote of the member schools and delayed any sort of adoption until the 2020-21 school year, at least.

As the retention of high school officials becomes tougher across the nation, and the behavior of adult fans most-often cited as the reason for that, the KHSAA wanted to act now. There were about 2 percent fewer officials licensed by the KHSAA this school year than in 2017-18, and every sport except baseball, track and field, volleyball and wrestling lost officials year over year.

“I think in discussing it the board was pretty clear that they need to make this very visible step,” KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett said. “Let’s fire a shot across the bow at conduct and let’s give our schools another tool in the toolbox, which is the ability to blame us for a policy. ‘Mr. Smith, I don’t want to ban you for a game, but I have to.’ Let’s try this, and if it doesn’t address the situation, then come back with a bylaw, then come back with more restrictive things.”

The new policy reads, in its entirety: “Any adult spectator (adult who is not listed on the current roster of coaches for the school) at any KHSAA sanctioned interscholastic event (scrimmage, regular or postseason contest) who is removed by school administrators or by law enforcement (whether or not referred by an official) shall be suspended from attending, at minimum, the next contest at that level of competition and all other contests at any level in the interim.”

Officials are supposed to consult with a game administrator if there is an issue with a spectator, and do not have the authority to eject spectators from KHSAA events. That is up to the discretion of a game administrator (athletic director, etc.).

Chapter 518.090 of the Kentucky Penal Code, adopted in 1998, specifically addresses the physical assault of sports officials. An official in Paducah last month was assaulted during a non-scholastic basketball game.

“The argument can be made that most of our schools are doing what they need to do, but there are a few that either need the backing of a state policy or maybe kind of need a mallet to remind them that they’ve got a job to do, protecting this environment around the games,” Tackett said. “And it’s not just about supporting officials. It’s about safety at games. ...

“This is a very visible step to say, ‘We’re not gonna take this.’ This is not what we represent in interscholastic competition, is you to be able to come and say or do whatever you want to. You don’t get to do that. You’ve got to have some conduct limits.”