ORONO – It may be like a drop in the ocean.

Waves are not evident immediately, but in time, the ripple effect produces a sweeping surge that is felt everywhere.

In January of 2005, Sports Done Right was rolled out with great hype and grandeur. Pilot schools have worked to implement and instill its philosophy ever since.

It made a splash with its unveiling, but the waves were smaller in the last year. The hope is, eventually, the tide turns in creating a healthier athletic environment.

“The subtle changes will continue to add on so that it will create a huge impact for the entire state of Maine,” said Karen Brown, the director of the Maine Center for Sport and Coaching, the flagship of the SDR process.

A dozen pilot sites helped launch the University of Maine initiative and can already testify to results.

“Changes are being made,” said Lewiston’s Luke Potter, a senior that attended the rollout and has been part of the Lewiston-Auburn leadership team. “There is something being done. It wasn’t just these meetings last year and people saying OK, we have this great little book and it says all these things that we should do.’ Things are happening. So far, I don’t think change is happening a whole lot, but kids are aware. Kids are thinking about it.”

Paige Piper, a sophomore at Poland Regional High School, was at the summit in Orono nearly two years ago. She’s noticed a more positive tone at games.

“I’m really glad that it’s starting to grab on,” said Piper. “I think it’s a really good thing. I think it’s going to start to develop more as I’m a senior, but then it’s going to really catch on, and I’m not going to be here when it does, but I’m part of the foundation of it.”

Changes in atmosphere and awareness already signal progress. SDR has generated community conversations and a change in attitudes.

“I think it has brought a lot of these issues to the forefront,” said Jason Fuller, athletic director at Lewiston. “You’re seeing a lot more people focusing on sportsmanship and what the benefits of athletics are supposed to be. I think it’s increased the conversation and communication across the state.”

When pilot communities now hear about responsibility as SDR role models from others, it shows expectations have been elevated.

“It’s definitely increased the awareness,” said Paul Amnott, the assistant principal at Lewiston. “There’s no doubt about that in my mind. The awareness has been increased for everybody. We’ve certainly put our expectations a little bit higher than we have in the past.”

Dan Deshaies, the athletic director at Edward Little, says there’s been an ebb in the percentage of disciplinary issues. He estimates that the school was already doing 80 percent of what SDR recommends, but have tried to fill in the gaps.

“I’ve heard people say That’s not Sports Done Right,’ in the gymnasium and stuff like that,” said Deshaies. “It’s reinforced it to us. In the past, it might be something we’d let slide a little bit. Now we go deal with it right off.”

At Poland, the football, baseball and girls’ soccer teams were all recognized for sportsmanship by respective boards of officials. Though athletic director Don King can’t say those are a direct result of SDR, there is a correlation.

“I think it’s more of a philosophy than an event, but you create events to support a philosophy,” said King. “They work together.

“When I first looked at the Sports Done Right document, it wasn’t anything different from what I thought we were supposed to be doing, but it’s nice to have something in writing to refer back to. It generates conversations and allows me as an athletic administrator to have these conversations with coaches and make sure when we’re hiring that we have people that understand what our philosophy is and where it comes from.”

Brown has heard similar success stories. It has provided one vision for communities, made people more in tune to what athletes desire and gotten students more involved in the process.

“I’ve been told several times by a parent that they were in the stands at an athletic event,” said Brown. “Things were getting a little out of control with the fellow fans, yelling derogatory comments to officials and so forth. “They said Excuse me, that’s not Sports Done Right. We’re a Sports Done Right school.’ Just being able to say that is a huge step in the right direction.”

Forget the cover, read the book

With attempts to bring reform to athletics, SDR has run headlong into rough waters. Detractors said it was too soft – a “Sports Done Light” philosophy.

There were Little League teams in Augusta reporting false scores of lopsided games, defending that practice by saying it was part of SDR. Brown has vehemently denied and challenged assertions that this initiative is any type of feel-good agenda.

“There are decision being made with the assumption that it’s in line with Sports Done Right when in fact that is not the case,” said Brown. “It did surprise me because if people were to read the report and the words in the report rather than reading between the lines or not reading the report at all, those misconceptions wouldn’t be out there. Because people are assuming things or not reading the report, these misconceptions have become a huge weight for us to bear.”

The concept of competition and the idea of opportunities to play, especially at the middle school level, has caused some confusion. The report suggests that the lower levels be more of a developmental stage than a precursor to varsity. That has given parents fodder to claim SDR advises equal playing time for all.

“I think it was misunderstood at first,” said Piper. “It was more accepted as something that said, Let’s not think about winning.’ But that’s not what Sports Done Right is at all.”

Others assume the initiative is a bureaucratic policy, created by educators that aren’t sports-literate, with the intent to alter a climate that doesn’t need fixing. Brown says the pilot sites are the life-line for SDR’s viability and intentions. When people see the practices in action, they will be convinced.

“For any naysayers out there, I don’t think they’ve been fully introduced to the program and it’s purposes and the values that are deeply rooted in it,” said Potter. “Those people that are speaking out against it, I don’t know how you could. Maybe I’m biased, but I don’t know how you could speak out against a better atmosphere for kids and parents, teachers, coaches and sports.”

Show must go on

The one-year timetable for pilot sites extends to the end of the current school year. Non-pilot sites have already started lining up. Brown says that more than 70 school districts have expressed interest, while 15 non-pilot sites have already set sail with the program.

“We are where we want to be, however, I will be completely honest in that we’ve had so much interest and there has been such a high demand that we did not anticipate, that because of that, we’re anxiously awaiting resources to further assist schools in Maine,” she said. “Unfortunately, that’s a slow process, slower than we’d like.”

The next wave will be compact and policy samples that the MCSC provides schools to utilize in forming their own compacts and policy changes. The end result will be the completion of a candidacy process, ultimately producing an official Sports Done Right community.

“The challenge is once we have Sports Done Right schools, how do we sustain that? How do we keep that going when you experience turnover?” said Brown. “It will be interesting to see how it works, but once we supply the policy, we hope these policies are signed on by the school boards and will help sustain the initiative.”

Brown and the MCSC will work with communities by providing resources and guidance. She hopes to develop conferences for coaches, administrators and athletes. She expects to still fight the current on some fronts, but keeping minds focused on SDR is imperative and should combat opinions that SDR will just peter out.

“I think that’s something that naysayers are kind of hoping, which is our job and the challenge for us to prevent from happening,” said Brown. “It will continue to be a challenge probably until the majority of schools in Maine are Sports Done Right schools, and everyone knows the expectations.”

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