Mercury News

Fans attending high school games often are poster children for poor sportsmanship. And the culprits berating a referee, coach or player -- as though they were sitting in the Raiders' notorious Black Hole -- frequently are parents there to cheer their son or daughter.

``When someone sitting next to me starts swearing, that's inappropriate,'' said Jeff Lamb, Milpitas High's athletic director for 12 years.

With parents checking common sense at the door, the state's governing body for high school sports is trying to educate them about good sportsmanship.

The California Interscholastic Federation's Sports Parent Participation program, now in its second year, seems to be making an impact.

``I thought it hit a lot of high points and illustrated a lot of bad behaviors I've seen,'' said Jaime Perez, a Lynbrook father who has officiated youth baseball and soccer for several years. ``It reminds parents of what it's all about.''

Lynbrook and Milpitas are two of the estimated 75 schools that have brought the program on campus.

During the 45-minute presentation, parents are reminded that they are role models and that their kids play sports to have fun. They also get tips on how to deal with coaches, learn about the realities of college scholarships (about 1 percent receive them nationally) and are offered suggestions on how to talk with their kids about things such as lack of playing time.

Roger Blake, the assistant executive director of the CIF and the program's main presenter, uses a variety of tools to hammer home the idea. He usually opens his program by asking parents how many of them have been to an event and seen someone acting foolishly.

``Every person raises their hand,'' Blake said. ``Everybody recognizes it's a problem. We think one of the answers is to help educate what is OK.''

That line has become blurred as the in-your-face mentality of pro sports entertainment -- ``I paid $50 for this ticket and will act however I want'' -- has trickled to the high school level.

``The phenomenon carries over: What is OK to do at pro events is OK at a high school event,'' Lamb said. ``But it's not. This is an educational institution. It's a hard message to get across.''

Blake, who helped develop the program's content, uses his vast experiences as a parent and coach to illustrate his points.

He also draws upon the admittedly childish behavior he displayed while roaming the sideline as a girls basketball coach in Southern California. Blake concedes he was guilty of berating his players, laying blame and overemphasizing winning.

``I'm not proud about how I acted and behaved,'' said Blake, 49. ``But I hope sometimes they see themselves in the stories and say, `Yep, that was me last week.' ''

Most parents and fans know what behavior is acceptable, he said, but they need a friendly reminder.

Sometimes that reminder is in the form of a mirror. With parents gathered in a school gym for the presentation, Blake will sit among them and verbally assault an imaginary referee.

``I make a complete fool of myself in the stands,'' Blake said. ``To make a point, I act like a parent might.''

Because the CIF and most of its member schools believe athletics are an extension of academics, Blake draws comparisons between sports venues and the classroom. Parents should be held accountable on both fronts, he said. After all, what parent would walk into a child's math class and insult the teacher?

To back up that point, he shows a short video that features high school athletes talking about how their parents' behavior in the stands affects them. The video makes parents aware that as much as support bolsters their children on the field, negative attention embarrasses or even angers them.

Most of all, the presentation reminds parents why kids play sports in the first place: to have fun.

``Sometimes parents put more importance on games than the kids themselves,'' said Lamb, who brought the CIF presentation to Milpitas twice. ``The bottom line is most kids want to have fun.''

The program has been well-received. Blake said at almost every school, one or two parents approach him afterward and own up to identifying with that parent in the stands, or they concede that it was as though their son or daughter were speaking to them in the video.

Blake, Lamb and others say the main reason parents may go overboard is because they want what's best for their kids. In the world of high school sports, that can mean more playing time or a bigger role on the team, all in pursuit of a college scholarship.

So the CIF includes some eye-opening statistics for parents: Just 1.04 percent of boys will receive a Division I or II college scholarship (10,186 scholarships for 980,267 seniors and junior college transfers).

The numbers slightly increase for girls -- 1.39 percent of the 686,545 estimated participants will receive a scholarship. That equals 9,555 scholarships.

``I would say, generally, they are shocked by the reality of scholarships,'' Blake said.

The CIF tapped into various resources that specialize in sportsmanship -- such as the Center for Sports Parenting at the University of Rhode Island and the Positive Coaching Alliance at Stanford -- to develop their program. It is part of the CIF's larger ``Victory with Honor'' program, which encourages athletes, coaches and parents to win -- or lose -- with class.

Schools pay $400 for the presentation -- basically to cover travel costs -- but Blake hopes the program eventually will be free. Despite the cost, Blake said the CIF did about 60 presentations last year (and hopes to reach 80 this year).

Ideally, every high school in the Central Coast Section will be able to provide this reminder to its parents.

``Sometimes we just have to remind them and tell them it's OK to tell someone sitting next to you, `Whoa, slow down. We don't act like that at our high school,' '' Blake said. ``We hope it empowers fans in the stands.''

Contact Mark Gomez at mgomez@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5869.