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Last season, Columbus North girls basketball coach Pat McKee knew he had to worry about talented opponents, blending his group of all-stars together and preparing for any possible injuries.
He probably didn’t think he would have to deal with a Facebook attack on the program.
Yet, there he was, a coach with one more thing to think about.
“Today’s world is different,” said McKee, a former assistant sports editor at the Indianapolis Star and a member of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. “Facebook and Twitter are there.”
Pike football coach Derek Moyers found out the hard way about social media and athletics. Moyers was suspended for Pike’s Nov. 1 sectional playoff game against Ben Davis because his team’s celebration after its previous playoff victory, Oct. 25 over Brownsburg, was posted on Facebook. The players had gotten back to the locker room before the coaches and were dancing to a rap song that featured inappropriate language. One of the players got his cellphone out and the moment was captured.
People who saw the clip were appalled and Moyers was suspended. He took responsibility for the incident, saying he should have made sure a coach had gotten back to the locker room to supervise.
While Moyers was being noble, it’s obvious that coaches even 10 years ago probably weren’t that worried about locker room happenings being posted on social media. Now, though, every student seems to have a phone with a camera and a link to the Internet.
“It’s something that I think about,” said Columbus East Athletics Director Bob Gaddis, whose football team just won a state 4A championship. “We have had issues. Anyone who has said they haven’t had issues probably isn’t looking into it.
“To me, one of the scariest things about it are the cameras. It’s not unusual to see students taking pictures or videos during the school day.”
The Avon Police Department currently is investigating reports that emerged earlier this month that Avon High School students used their cellphone cameras to exchange naked photos of themselves or fellow students.
While social media is a concern for all students, it is even more so for athletic teams that are under the microscope.
“We talk about it several times a year,” Columbus North football coach Tim Bless said about social media. “I kind of like a quote from Stanford (football) coach David Shaw, who said, ‘It should be a running commentary about how great your life is.”
Bless attended an American Football Coaches Association convention in Nashville, Tenn., where social media was a topic. Included was a conversation how social media can be used to bully or haze student-athletes.
“You hear stories all the time,” Bless said.
One of the hardest parts of regulating social media use is trying to define a school’s role. Students have 24/7 access to social media.
“At a certain point, a young man has to be held responsible for his actions,” Bless said.
Larry Perkinson, the employee and student assistance coordinator for the Bartholomew County School Corporation, is a “troubleshooter” who does research when issues pop up that “could be a barrier to education and personal safety.”
“Social media is not something that my position really deals with,” Perkinson said. “This is an area where I call the front-line people and ask them what they are seeing. Coaches, teachers, band directors, they all have to be aware. They can’t have blinders on and say ‘It won’t happen here.’
“It’s a gray zone that is so difficult. For a school, does what a student posts create a disruption to the school and the educational environment? If it creates a disruption, we will address it. The kids born since 2000 are part of the ‘I Generation’ and they were born with phones in their hands. That’s difficult to monitor.”
Perkinson said that having solid values is a huge start to dealing with social media.
“I walked into Taylorsville Elementary the other day and a sign said, ‘Be responsible, be respectful, be safe.’ Those are simple lessons that apply to the playground and apply to technology. Most of our students make good decisions every day.
“But we do have to understand that this age is a little different. They post everything they are doing. There are interactions every day where someone is saying somebody said something on Facebook or Twitter about someone else. I don’t care if this is dealing with the classroom, or band or the sports arena, education is not just about reading, writing and arithmetic. This is about making choices. “
John Quick, the Bartholomew County School Corporation superintendent, said social media has many positive benefits for the students.
“We have basketball players and other athletes who have blogs and websites,” Quick said. “We have a lot of great private colleges out there that don’t have recruiting possibilities. You almost have to promote yourself.
“But like with anything, there are opportunities to make abuses or make mistakes, or joust with opposing teams through cyberspace.”
And while Quick said that teachers and coaches work hard on teaching students social media responsibility, that lesson has to start at home.
“My parents preach (social media responsibility) at home,” said Columbus East tailback Markell Jones, who said he has Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. “Coach Gaddis talks about it, too.”
Gaddis said he is looking into other ways to educate his student athletes about social media.
“We’re probably going to have somebody from the outside come in and talk to the kids about it,” Gaddis said. “We might even use social media to train kids on the use of social media.”
Quick said responsibility is an important message that must be delivered.
“We try to provide the framework at our end,” Quick said of the school corporation. “From there it has to cascade down. Both high schools have handbooks.”
Can those handbooks include any enforcement on something that happens in the Internet world? It might be too early to tell.
“I see trash talking all the time,” Jones said.
It’s not just the guys.
“I think our players use good judgement,” McKee said. “But, and I know this is a general comment, the reality is that the girls talk as much trash as the guys.”
It all keeps North Athletics Director Jeff Hester on his toes.
“I am constantly sending out messages about social media use,” Hester said. “We just had a breakout session at the National Athletic Directors Conference (in Anaheim, Calif.) about trying to help the athletes to understand not to bash their coaches, not to trash talk other teams or opposing players and trying to get kids where they are not venting their feelings.
“The majority of our athletes do have a social media account. My approach is an educational approach instead of trying to ban it. I know that some college programs have banned the use of social media by their athletes.
“We all know that on any day, somebody could make a poor decision that could potentially haunt them the rest of their life. That’s why we encourage all parents who have teens to be involved in this.”
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