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IHSA Interview: Executive Director Marty Hickman Talks Sportsmanship, Harrisburg-Seton, March Madness & More

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IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman recently sat down to talk about the state of sportsmanship, look back/ahead at the Harrisburg-Seton Class 2A state boy’s basketball championship game a year ago and talk about a number of related items. The interview is transcribed between video and text below:

Q: What is the state of sportsmanship in high school sports today?

Q: What makes you say that?
A: Because I continue to hear one inspiring story after another. A basketball player from Conant High School named Joe Ranallo single-handily went out and raised $15,000 dollars for tornado relief efforts in Washington, Illinois over the past few months. These are communities, Hoffman Estates and Washington, that are separated by 150 miles and this young man literally put it on himself to do this. And these are not isolated incidents, we continue to see incredible acts like this. If you look on our IHSAState webpage, we highlight great acts of sportsmanship all the time, and for every story we post on the website, there are probably another 10 that we hear about that are not there. I recently attended three different IHSA State Finals and witnessed great sportsmanship at all three events. I watched our boys bowling state finals in O’Fallon and repeatedly saw players and fans support the young men who were bowling. Over the course of the last few weekends I saw fans from all over Illinois support our competitive dance and competitive cheer teams. Knowing that we have these types of kids on our fields, courts, mats, and so on, makes me feel confident that the sportsmanship issues that do arise will continue to be isolated.

Q: What is the key to making sure they remain isolated?
A: High school sports are emotional events for everyone involved. We also can’t forget that the participants are teenagers. There have always been and will always be isolated issues. From an IHSA standpoint, we will continue to try and find the best ways possible to spread our message of good sportsmanship, while listening to ideas from students and coaches on how we can do it better. We had nearly 700 students from around the state attend our Student Leadership Conference in Peoria last September. To see so much interest from students in leadership and sportsmanship is inspiring. Our young people see and understand the importance of it.

Q: The IHSA had a highly publicized incident in the Class 2A Boys Basketball State Championship game between Harrisburg & Seton Academy last year. What can you say about that situation?

Q: Both schools involved had requirements they had to meet in order to be able to participate in postseason basketball this year. What is their respective statuses?
Both schools have been reinstated and will be competing. Coach Smithpeters from Harrisburg successfully completed the NFHS Teaching & Modeling Behavior Coaching Course in early September. Both schools completed the other elements of the sanctions to the satisfaction of our Board to earn reinstatement.

Q: Both are perennially strong programs, what would you think about Harrisburg and Seton Academy qualifying for state and rematching in Peoria this year?
It would be a heck of a story, that’s for sure. But we will be ready for whoever qualifies. Last year forced us to reexamine everything we do and we have tweaked several elements within the arena and game operations. We will be better prepared and have the players, coaches and officials better prepared for the entire experience.

Q: You mentioned the officials, who the IHSA announced in its release last year were sanctioned as well. Can you comment on that?
Sure. It’s important to note that these are and remain highly respected and qualified officials. There are coaches all over the state who will vouch for that and do through our ratings process. This was a situation where the game got away from them a bit. There should have some technical fouls accessed early and both coaches should have shown more leadership. With that said, no official, whether they are doing a freshman game, or a state championship game, wants to feel like they are influencing the final result. It’s human nature. Ultimately, after we decided on the sanctions for the schools, we felt the officials deserved the same opportunity. We worked with some highly respected NCAA Division I basketball officials to put together a somewhat unprecedented educational program. Like the schools, those officials completed their requirements and are eligible to work postseason games this season.

Q: What does concern you about sportsmanship right now?
My biggest concern centers around the treatment of officials and culpability. In the situation we talked about above, we determined that the officials had some fault and it was dealt with it appropriately. However, I seem to see an increase in situations where a sportsmanship issue occurs and those involved immediately place blame on the officials for not having “control.” The student-athletes, coaches and fans are responsible for their actions. If the adults exhibit “control”, the students will follow. If coaches don’t take responsibility and set an example for their student-athletes, it can create an ugly situation at a game in the short-term, but it can also create accountability issues for the long-term.

Q: What do you expect out of March Madness this year?

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