The sound of silent cheering

Rec department takes different approach to promote good sportsmanship

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Deanna Watkins runs to the penalty box after cheering for a player Saturday during a Rathdrum Parks and Recreation basketball game at Lakeland Junior High where parents and fans were required to show their support for players in a non-vocal manner. Fans were given a red card and sent to a penalty box if they broke their silence.

RATHDRUM — It’s not every day a grown-up gets a timeout.

But on Saturday, Hayden Kinder Center teacher Cherish Hansen of Athol found herself in the penalty box during a basketball game at Lakeland Junior High School.

“My daughter made a free-throw, I had to shout,” she said.

Hansen and a handful of other parents or grandparents were penalized for being vocal during what members of the Rathdrum Parks and Recreation Department designated as “Silent Cheer Day.”

“It reminds me of when I put my kids in timeout,” Hansen said. “Now I know how it feels.”

“Silent Cheer Day” focused on sportsmanship and encouragement without spectators yelling negative or even positive remarks at the players or referees.

“Coaches said the kids played a little better because there was less noise,” said Post Falls recreation coordinator Justin Brown.

Brown got the notion for the silent cheer at a seminar he recently attended at the National Alliance for Youth Sports in San Diego. The goal is for parents and spectators to find less distracting ways to communicate their support for their kids, such as applause and signage, and eliminate some of the negativity that can come out during a game. If they were loud during Saturday’s games, they were given a red penalty card and sent to the penalty area for one minute.

“They think the only way they can encourage their kids is verbally,” Brown said, adding that he thought the event was a success.

“I’ve never heard them clap that loudly before,” he said.

Fifth- and sixth-grade boys and girls played several games from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. as parents sat (mostly) silent on the bleachers, holding posters and wearing supportive buttons or T-shirts. Lorna Allen of Spirit Lake was rooting for her granddaughter Sadie as her team played a late afternoon game.

“It’s really hard not to yell,” she said. Allen, who was penalized once, was a good sport about the silent cheer, but said she could understand the reasoning better if it was a fundraiser.

“We’re a very vocal group,” she said “Nobody had ever heard of this before. I thought, ‘I’m going to get thrown out right off the bat.’”

Gavin Whitesitt, 17, and Brett Webb, 18, both of Rathdrum, were the referees in the stands. They handed out about 15 penalties throughout the day.

“Most are pretty cooperative, but don’t really agree with the whole system,” Webb said. “This is kind of a trial thing that we’ve decided to do. What the focus is, is to try to have the players be more relaxed, and feel less pressure and so they can hear their coaches a little bit better.”

Whitesitt said some parents were unaware of the silent cheer that day.

“Obviously, they want to cheer for their kids,” he said. “It’s hard to say, ‘Hey, stop doing that.’”

As referees, they received positive and negative feedback from parents.

“It’s really thinking outside the box,” said Rathdrum Parks and Recreation director Lance Bridges. “It’s something we discovered in other areas and they found it to be a really successful idea.”

Amanda Anderson cheers from a penalty box during a Rathdrum Parks and Recreation basketball game Saturday. Anderson was sent to the box for cheering aloud which was forbidden in order to teach parents and fans a lesson in good sportsmanship.

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