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WIAA Says No to Cheers that Taunt

LaToya Dennis
The WIAA prohibits any cheer that can be perceived at taunting

Should Wisconsin restrict what fans can shout at high school sporting events? The WIAA, Wisconsin’s governing board for high school sports, reminded schools a few weeks ago to enforce the rules. They ban chants some people might perceive as taunting, while others may consider them harmless. One legislator wants to demand more transparency from WIAA so people understand the reasons for its rules. In the meantime, the reminder seems to have quieted crowds.

Walk into just about any gym where a basketball game is being played and at some point you’ll likely hear familiar chants such as 'air ball.'  But in Wisconsin high schools, the rules ban those sorts of chants and for good reason, according to Greenfield high school freshman and basketball player Tori Alvarez. We met at a recent game— when Greenfield hosted Brown Deer.

“Sometimes some stuff that people say, you just kind of want to turn around on the court and be like really? Is that necessary?

Dennis: “So what’s the worst thing you’ve heard?”

“Well recently during a game like everything we did they just chanted out loud. So dribble, dribble, dribble, pass, pass. And one of our varsity girls is a freshman and she air-balled a shot and the whole crowd just started bashing the poor girl out. And I felt so bad. I was like that’s my friend. Like she’s a freshman on varsity give her some credit,” Alvarez says.

Alvarez says the taunting can really mess with a player’s confidence.

The rules banning those type of chants have been in place since 2005, but late last year the WIAA sent out an e-mail reminding schools to enforce the rules.

Mary Kaifesh says they can make for very quiet gyms during basketball games. Her son Johnathan plays the guard position.

“I think that our fans were policed quite well at every game. You don’t even know that they’re here. So if we have 20, 50 kids you don’t even really know that they’re here. You feel like you’re in church sometimes,” Kaifesh says.

Complaints about lackluster crowd enthusiasm were pretty common among the parents who spoke with me. Trent Lower is Greenfield’s athletic director. He says students come to games and have fun, but ultimately, they know the rules.

“We have great game management here. We have very dedicated staff that are able to manage the game on a weekly basis. We’re all at the game and we do, we manage that environment to the best of our abilities. Regardless of any chant good natured or obviously very negative in nature, it’s managed appropriately,” Lower says.

Lower says he can understand how the mildest of cheers can impact young players, but for Brown Deer sophomore Cameron Prescott, it’s all part of the fun. He says the worst cheer he’s heard is actually pretty funny.

“I was at a Pius game last year and the chant was ‘ya’ll need Jesus. Ya’ll need Jesus,’” Prescott says.

As for Prescott’s favorite chant, he says it would have to be one from the banned list.

“I think scoreboard. I think scoreboard’s the worst one we can’t say now because Brown Deer likes to say that a lot because we like to score a lot a points,” Prescott says.

And from the sound of things, talk a bit of trash.

The WIAA says it stands by its policy to ensure good sportsmanship and respectful environments. State Representative John Nygren has said he plans to reintroduce legislation that would force the WIAA to follow the state’s open records laws. He says that since public money is being spent, taxpayers deserve insight into the organization’s decisions.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.