Parents and coaches in the Pittsburgh diocese's 100 Catholic elementary schools received a letter recently warning that those who do not control their tempers would be banned from Catholic school sports.
The letter, written by Ronald T. Bowes, assistant superintendent for public policy and development and the athletic director with Pittsburgh Catholic Schools, was prompted by two recent though separate incidents in the diocese's Catholic school basketball league.
Without going into detail, Dr. Bowes' six-paragraph letter mentions "serious incidents" that involved "conduct unbecoming Catholic school students, coaches and parents."
In a phone interview Wednesday, Dr. Bowes declined to name the elementary schools involved but said that in both incidents one student accused another of using a derogatory term. The two incidents involved separate teams and separate players, and after the accusations were made, parents and fans yelled and argued.
In both cases, the claims of derogatory language were never verified by other players, parents, coaches or officials, Dr. Bowes said. But he said he felt compelled to write the letter because he wanted to be vigilant and remind parent and coaches of the higher standards expected of Catholic school sports programs.
"None of that will be tolerated, and that's why I wrote the letter," he said.
The letter, dated Jan. 26, was "general in nature," he said. He wrote that Catholic school sports participants "should at all times be primarily concerned with Christian principles, good sportsmanship and treating each other as Christ taught us."
Parents and coaches should demonstrate a "consistent Christian ethic" and should defuse the situation, not contribute to its escalation, he wrote.
"It is painful to observe, or to be told of behavior that does not belong in a Catholic community," Dr. Bowes wrote in the letter. "Racial slurs, the use of profanity, displays of anger cannot and will not be tolerated."
A prayer often said before games was sent with the letter, and Dr. Bowes encouraged parents and coaches to read and internalize it.
"I think pro-activity is very important when it comes to everything, especially schools," he said.
Pittsburgh diocesan schools have taken the initiative when it comes to promoting positive sports conduct, he said, with training for its coaches and video training for parents on their role and behavior during sports events.
Last summer, Dr. Bowes attended a three-day training seminar at the University of Notre Dame. The Play Like a Champion Today Educational Series promotes the practice of "sports as spirituality, coaching as ministry," Dr. Bowes said.
After Dr. Bowes attended the Notre Dame seminar, the diocese began mandating that its volunteer coaches attend three-hour training sessions on Saturdays to get accredited through the program. So far, about 25 percent of the coaches have gone through the program, Dr. Bowes said.
If a negative incident does take place during a sporting event, whether it be bad language or bad officiating, parents, coaches and fans are instructed to make the complaint in writing to a school principal, who will then forward it to Dr. Bowes.
The diocese wants its sports programs to be "faith-oriented, quality activities," Dr. Bowes wrote.
"I don't care if it's just one incident," he said. "We aren't going to have any incidents."
Kaitlynn Riely: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1707.