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Tom Brady’s alma mater and Bay Area schools ban booing at sporting events

St. Ignatius students cheer during a football game against Jesuit in San Francisco, Calif. on Sept. 2, 2022. | Chris Victorio for The Standard

A group of religious private high schools in the Bay Area have banned booing and “negative” chants from the crowd at certain sporting events, The Standard has learned.

Serra, the alma mater of Tom Brady and Barry Bonds known for its boisterous student section, has been one of the most prominent schools trying to stomp out these behaviors, along with neighboring West Catholic Athletic League rivals St. Ignatius and Sacred Heart Cathedral.

During the fourth quarter of Sacred Heart Cathedral’s Jan. 25 victory over rival St. Ignatius in the Bruce-Mahoney girls basketball game, a St. Ignatius shot fell short of the rim, and the Fightin’ Irish student section chanted, “Airball! Airball!”

Those chants were followed by whistles and gestures from Sacred Heart Cathedral’s administration, telling fans to stop a chant that’s nearly as old as basketball itself.

It’s part of an effort from schools strictly adhering to bylaws and regulations regarding chants and fan conduct.

Sacred Heart Cathedral fans celebrate a point during the first set of the Bruce-Mahoney Game in San Francisco on Sept. 14, 2022. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

Section 12B of the Central Coast Section basketball bylaws lists certain behaviors as unacceptable for fans, including “berating your opponent’s school or mascot,” “complaining about officials’ calls (verbally or in gestures)” and “berating opposing players.”

“The WCAL [West Catholic Athletic League] has really prioritized fan behavior this year,” St. Ignatius athletic director John Mulkerrins said. “Our league has had multiple sportsmanship summits to educate our students on how they can best support their communities and represent themselves well.”

Not all of the 152 schools in the section, which stretches from San Francisco down to King City, are enforcing the rule so thoroughly. In Monday night’s Central Coast Section Open Division basketball game at Sacred Heart Prep in Atherton, which is not a member of the West Catholic Athletic League, fans booed after a charging call against the host Gators in the fourth quarter, and the game continued without incident.

Serra fans celebrate a 3-pointer by guard Alex Stickel (11) during the fourth quarter of a Central Coast Section Open Division basketball game in San Mateo, Calif. on Feb. 18, 2023. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

At last Tuesday night’s annual Jungle Game with St. Ignatius at Serra, in which the host Padres pride themselves on creating the most hostile home-court advantage possible, supervisors regularly waved their arms to stop students from booing, whether it was during introductions for the visiting team or in response to a call. St. Ignatius students were similarly admonished for chanting “Take his whistle!” when they disagreed with a call.

‘Criticizing Officials in Any Way’

West Catholic Athletic League policy lists unacceptable behavior, including, “disrespectful taunting, derogatory yells, chants, songs or gestures,” including such cheers as “Na, na, hey, hey, goodbye” or “Airball, airball,” “booing or heckling an official’s decision” and “criticizing officials in any way.”

“In the CCS [Central Coast Section], we have stressed with our schools and students to be positive in our words when rooting on our fellow athletes and teams and to refrain from using negative words and actions,” said the section’s commissioner, David Grissom.

Fan conduct at youth sporting events has come under the microscope in recent years, both within the Bay Area and nationally. In 2018, students in Burlingame were reprimanded after chanting “You can’t see us” at Mills, a predominantly Asian school. A year later, the Jungle Game ended in chaos, with fans brawling on the floor, in the hallways and outside the gym after Serra fans stormed the court to celebrate a 21-point comeback.

Balboa fans react to a call during the fourth quarter of an Academic Athletic Association football game against Lincoln in San Francisco on Oct. 1, 2022. | Chris Victorio for The Standard

Aside from low pay, verbal and sometimes even physical abuse from fans and players is cited as a main reason for the nationwide referee shortage in youth sporting events. The Bay Area has been hit especially hard by that shortage, with high school football games often played on Thursdays, instead of Fridays, to compensate for the dearth of officials. In last year’s state basketball tournament, fans of both teams at a game between Miramonte and Clovis North exhibited such disgraceful behavior that it merited a column in the San Jose Mercury News.

Last month, a public address announcer at a high school basketball game in Wisconsin went viral after telling fans to “shut up” after repeated complaints about calls. He followed that up by saying that fans bothered by refereeing should “get on the floor, wear a striped shirt and do it yourselves.”

At the end of the 2021 Bruce-Mahoney basketball game between St. Ignatius and Sacred Heart at Kezar Pavilion, multiple Sacred Hearts fans sprinted across the floor to admonish the referees after the Fightin’ Irish lost in overtime.

“Obviously, we’ve had a shortage of referees, and chants like ‘Take his whistle’ can be seen as singling a referee out,” Mulkerrins said.

Sports provide an opportunity for communities to come together and for young people to gain valuable experiences. Behavior and sportsmanship are, understandably, a top priority. There’s no place for obscene chants or middle fingers at high school sporting events. But does prohibiting booing or “airball” chants help with character development, or does it just create a sterilized atmosphere?