Lynsey Mukomel and 24 Hour News 8 web staff -
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) -- The O-K Conference this week told schools that "USA" should not be chanted during high school sports games when the phrase has been co-opted to taunt an opposing team.
Officials with the conference said in a note that fans may chant "USA" only after the National Anthem is played. Outside of that, it is prohibited.
O-K Conference Commissioner Jim Haskins told 24 Hour News 8 that some students attending athletic events were chanting "USA" as a way of telling opponents, "U suck a**." Haskins said the chant filtered down from colleges and started happening at high school basketball games last year.
"The USA chant came into discussion with both the AD Pres. and The Executive Board this week. It was approved by both groups that the chant should ONLY be used after the playing of the National anthem to salute our country. Any other time during the contest this chant, with different meanings for the USA letters, are demeaning and prohibited," the note reads in part.>>PDF: O-K Conference Handbook
"It's not unpatriotic. It's just trying to keep everything square away with everyone," Haskins said of the rule. "We want to keep everything straight up. We don't want to be demeaning or everything that is a putdown on our athletes, schools or teams."
He said there's already a similar ban in place in Wisconsin.
The Michigan High School Athletics Association told 24 Hour News 8 that as part of membership, leagues and conferences must maintain proper sportsmanship. That's handled at the local level, so the O-K has the right to make its own decisions about sportsmanship enforcement at games, MHSAA said.
MHSAA said that before being contacted by 24 Hour News 8 Thursday, it had not heard complaints about repurposing "USA" to mean anything derogatory.
Additionally, in light of a display involving Donald Trump and Betsy Ross flags at last week's football matchup between Forest Hills Central and Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills, the note also reminded schools of the O-K rule that says "signs, flags, banners, chants, cheers or promotional material that carry questionable implications or are degrading are prohibited."
The letter said that if schools couldn't agree over questionable material, it should be removed pending a meeting with other division members and the commissioner's office. The letter urged schools to "make sure" the rules were enforced.
Rockford High School is one of the schools impacted by the conference's new ban.
"We will inform our students that this type of behavior, when it's done in a derogatory, insulting way, will not be accepted and will not occur," Superintendent Mike Shibler told 24 Hour News 8. "They will be asked to leave and there may be further disciplinary action on Monday morning."
Shibler made it clear, however, that he encourages students to demonstrate their patriotism as long as it's done in a way that's neither derogatory nor insulting. In fact, Shibler encourages students to sing the National Anthem and display the American flag.
The largest high school sports conference in West Michigan, the O-K includes 50 schools in Allegan, Barry, Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Ionia counties.
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