OK Conference official explains ‘USA’ chant restrictions

Posted at 10:13 PM, Sep 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-15 22:19:46-04

WEST MICHIGAN-- A Donald Trump flag and a Betsy Ross flag displayed at a recent high school football game are sparking a conversation that's now leading to changes in the way students are expected to conduct themselves at sporting events.

Some people see the Ross flag as a sign of racism adopted by white supremacist groups, while others see it as a simple sign of patriotism.

The conversation has made its way to the national level, with the Washington Post picking up the topic. On Thursday, etiquette among students was the focal point of changes for the OK Conference (Ottawa and Kent Counties).

Banners or flags that can be found offensive aren't allowed, which is not a new rule, but what these students are saying is grabbing attention. Chants of 'USA' have taken on a whole new meaning and are bringing on a whole new debate on when it's allowed.

What was once a showing of support for their country has now become an insult, Commissioner Jim Haskins says, because of how students are now using it.

"It now means 'You suck a****** or you suck a**," explain Haskins.

The OK Conference Executive Committee is telling guests they can only chant 'USA' right after the national anthem and no other.

"It's not unpatriotic, it's just trying to keep everything squared away with everybody," said Haskins.

The OK Conference handbook states, 'Any signs, flags, banners, chants, cheers or promotional material carrying questionable implications or are degrading are prohibited at any OK Conference venue.'

"We just can't have something demeaning, derogatory, put downs or any type of thing like that," said Haskins.

"I think Mr. Haskins is trying to be very proactive in just reminding people that there have been some situations recently and just reminding everyone that really it's a team effort and learning experience for our kids," said Roger Bearub, superintendent of Grandville Public Schools.

The decision is getting mixed reviews with students and parents.

"I think if it's offensive then then they shouldn't be saying it and I think it's a disgrace that the kids would actually be saying it living in the United States of America and they're changing it into something that doesn't stand for a good thing," said Greg Kulka, a parent of a Grandville student.

"I'm just surprised that people get offended by everything, like it's not a big deal," said Grandville student Noah Elders.

"It's just showing national pride and I don't really see a big problem with it," said Grandville student Hunter Crum.

Bearub tells FOX 17 chanting 'USA' could get a student kicked out or even banned from sporting events depending on the situation. How schools handle each case is up to them.

"It's school property and because it's a school property there are certain rights you don't have," said Bearub.

FOX 17 asked Haskins what would happen if a student wanted to chant 'USA' to show support for their country at another time during a game, which Haskins says is difficult to judge.

"That's where it becomes a fine line, how do we know that he or she is doing that?" said Haskins. "How do we know they're not demeaning a team? If that's what they'e doing then that school has to deal with that."

Both the Commissioner and Grandville Superintendent we spoke to say enforcing these rules really comes down to keeping an open dialogue with the student body, putting more eyes and ears on people in the stands and reminding them of the consequences of their actions.