Fans beginning to test the fun of high school sports

I could tell he wanted to ask a question.
The young boy kept wandering past me as I wrote a story at the state high school baseball tournament in Iowa City. He and his friends were fascinated by the makeshift media work area at Duane Banks Field — they were especially interested in the free popcorn that was available.
Finally, after his third or fourth pass at walking by and looking at my laptop screen, he summoned the courage to ask a question.
“Do you like your job?”
“Sure,” I said in as convincing a tone as one can have after covering a game that was about to be decided by the 10-run rule while sitting out in 85-degree heat and humidity.
“Is it fun?”
“Sure,” I said. “Some days are better than others.” Same tone.
“Well … thanks,” he said, and walked away.
I pondered the second question as I drove home that night. After 30-plus years in the business, was it fun?
The answer I gave — “Some days are better than others” — fit well, I thought.
And then I wondered about high school sports. Are they fun anymore?
I thought about that after watching the student section of one of the championship teams spend the entire game taunting opposing players or coaches, and the opposing fan base.
I thought about that after watching the grandfather of a player, who was sitting in front of me during the Class 3A title game, screaming at the opposing coach for daring to intentionally walk his grandson in key situations. Both times the opposing team retired the next hitter and got out of jams, but Grandpa thought there was a lot of disrespect in that strategy.
Grandpa wasn’t happy with the umpiring, by the way, and neither was Grandma, who screamed, “I THOUGHT THE BEST UMPIRES WERE SUPPOSED TO WORK THE CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES!” as her grandson’s team was winning 4-0. And Grandpa wasn’t happy that tables for the media were right behind his seat, so during the fifth-inning stretch he decided to “accidentally” stand up, shoving with his shoulders the table right into my stomach.
I realize these people are still the exception to the rule, but more and more of them are becoming the exception to the point they may not be exceptions.
What is heartening, though, is the athletes are at least having fun. The champions celebrated, as champions do. The runners-up left dejectedly, but I’m guessing it didn’t take too long for them to appreciate that even in losing, they made it to the championship game, and the memories of that tournament run with their friends and classmates will mean more down the road than the defeat will.
The 2022-23 high school sports season begins with full practices this week. Soon many of us will be back in the grandstands, outside or inside. I’ll be on the sidelines, or somewhere right alongside of you in the seats.
So let the coaches coach. Let the officials officiate — there is a shortage of officials, by the way, so feel free to get your license if you wish.
And remember that the athletes are the ones for whom these games mean the most.
Let’s continue to make more days be better than others.
John Bohnenkamp is an award-winning sports reporter and regular contributor to Pen City Current.
John Bohnenkamp, editorial, Fort Madison, fall sports, officials, fans, behavior, Pen City Current, opinion, column


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