Squalicum High School once again took the lead in facilitating this fall’s Northwest Conference Sportsmanship Forum, which convened student and staff representatives from the Northwest Conference’s 16 member schools to discuss values and practices for building positive sportsmanship models in high school athletics and activities. 

The annual event is facilitated each year by Squalicum Activities and Athletics Coordinator Patrick Brown, the NWC’s sportsmanship coordinator, and 10 SQHS students. Conference schools take turns serving as location host for the forum, which is part of the overall Northwest Conference Sportsmanship Program.  

Each school brings six student leaders to the event, representing schools across Whatcom and Skagit counties. The fall 2022 forum was expanded to include coaches, leadership teachers and administrator representatives from conference schools. 

In total, approximately 150 individuals convened at Sedro-Woolley High School for this year’s rotating-host event. Approximately 40 Bellingham Public Schools students and staff attended, representing the thousands of students who participate in activities in high school activities and athletics across the district. 

“The forum is designed to help participants build a plan for implementing a positive sportsmanship model at their respective schools,” Brown said. “We work in groups through four phases of development, which begins with a clear and student-driven definition of sportsmanship.” 

Together, attendees finalized a shared definition via a friendly contest to define sportsmanship. The definition will be displayed on posters and at league venues and reads: 

Sportsmanship encompasses a passionate community built by athletes, students, and spectators that prioritizes respect and brings positivity to the game. 

“The WIAA’s foundation for building our sportsmanship model states that ethics, integrity and respect are important values in our daily lives, which are translated into sportsmanship on the playing field,” Brown said. “Sportsmanship is one of the best lessons and values taught by school activities. The annual forum supports our conference’s active and intentional efforts to create and further positive sportsmanship climates and cultures.” 

The forum allowed attendees a collaborative setting to discuss each phase of development. Beyond the definition phase, participants discussed why sporting events are attended and the roles of student and family seating sections along with positive and negative examples of sportsmanship.  

The work led to the fourth development phase of identifying foundation models, steps to implement and the importance of a positive sportsmanship atmosphere for programs, student-athletes, schools and the community. 

“Through collaboration and learning from one another we are able to equip our student leaders and staff representatives with pillars for positive cultures,” Brown said. “The annual forum setting is a great opportunity to express our collective commitment to sportsmanship as well as learn and support one another in shaping the culture of sportsmanship at our schools.” 

Tangible examples of positive sportsmanship include cheering for a team in support rather than cheering against the opponent, shaking hands with officials, coaches and opponents as well as sharing good examples of sportsmanship displayed by opponents to further positive cultures. 

The program for the forum also included the sharing of sobering nationwide statistics as high school athletic referees are departing the profession at higher rates than usual, in large part due to poor sportsmanship exhibited toward referees. Nationwide, high school leagues are facing referee shortages. 

The Northwest Conference has implemented a Thank a Ref campaign, which includes dedicated appreciation weeks during the fall, winter and spring seasons. Public address announcements are read before competitions and certificates of appreciation are presented to the game’s referees.  

The Whatcom-Skagit-Island Football Officials Association (WSIFOA) has a long history of highlighting positive sportsmanship through the annual John R. Trotto Team Sportsmanship Award and the WIAA’s Scholastic Cup standings consider sportsmanship as a scoring factor in its prestigious annual program. 

“Student leaders and staff representatives came away from the forum with tools to influence building-level work in shaping sportsmanship culture,” Brown said. “They were also challenged to educate and inform their respective school leaders and communities of the important work to create and foster positive sportsmanship.” 

To learn more about sportsmanship initiatives, view the forum presentation slides and visit the WIAA Just Play Fair! citizenship program web page.  

To learn more about activities and athletics opportunities in Bellingham Public Schools, please contact school offices or visit the Bellingham, Sehome and Squalicum websites. Websites include game schedules to attend and support student-athletes across Bellingham. 

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