LACONIA — In recent days, fans who have shown up to support their local teams in the highly competitive NHIAA Division III Girls Basketball Tournament have been criticized for what some consider poor sportsmanship.
Susan Colby of Bristol, in particular, has been publicly critical of the behavior of Laconia fans, students and adults, at last Saturday night's quarter-final-round game between host Newfound and the Sachems.
"Oh my gosh," said Colby when reached on Thursday.
She said she was very glad to see that Laconia brought over 50 students to the game and the entire contingent of Sachem fans amounted to about a quarter of the total crowd. She said that at the encouragement of one the Laconia adults present, a group moved to seats behind the Newfound cheerleaders.
"On the first foul (shot by Newfound) they started stomping their feet, and I said to them that we don't do that here," she said. "They looked at me smugly."
Colby said that toward the end of the game, Newfound fans also started stomping their feet on the bleachers during Laconia's free throw attempts and she was equally disappointed in them.
She said the thing that upset her the most was the taunting when Laconia fans yelled "air ball" and "you can't do that" during free throw shots. At the end of the game, she said Laconia fans were yelling "loser" "loser".
Colby said one of her friends called Laconia school Superintendent Terri Forsten on Monday but she doesn't know if there was any conversation between the two.
Colby added that all of the athletes and their coaches on both sides were perfectly well behaved.
A Laconia High School student said Friday that he was also at the game. He said most of the crowd's behavior was "like you would see at any other game that you watch on television."
He said that toward the end of the game the people he was with started chanting "winning team" and "losing team", however Laconia Athletic Director Craig Kozens told them to stop.
"Some of the stuff we did was kind of rude," he said.
The student said there was also an altercation in the bleachers between one Newfound student and the mother of one of the Laconia players.
He said it started out as yelling but then the male Newfound student started to move toward the woman, "like he was going to get in her face" and his friend hauled him back and took him outside.
But according to photographer Alan MacRae, the Laconia crowd got a small taste of its own medicine on Tuesday, when their team played Gilford in a semi-final-round game in Manchester.
MacRae, assigned to cover the game by The Daily Sun, has been photographing high school, college and professional sports for just about his entire adult live. He is a retired police officer.
He said he was "appalled" by the behavior of Gilford's fans when they held up newspapers in front of their faces when the starting five players for Laconia were introduced before the game.
MacRae said there was no foot pounding on either side and, other than the newspapers, both sets of fans seemed well behaved. Both sides were loud, boisterous and supportive of their team and he said it was a close and very well-played game.
"Gilford has a formidable sports program," MacRae said, suggesting the fans, many of them adults, should mimic the good behavior of the athletes and coaches.
MacRae's larger concern is that student athletes are not all alike. "What if you're (taunting) got some kid who's "coded" meaning he or she has an individual education plan, or one who is shy or has ADD?"
"What if this kid was distraught?" he asked. "The average person can brush (taunting) off but some kids are more sensitive."
WEMJ radio sportscaster Keith Murray sees it a little differently than MacRae and Colby.
Murray has called games this year involving Gilford, Winnisquam Regional, Belmont, Inter-Lakes and Laconia teams.
He said someone also told him there was some "questionable behavior" at some of the games including foot stomping during foul shots. Murray said he "didn't think it was out of bounds."
He said most gymnasiums don't have seating behind the baskets and he said Laconia's fans at Newfound were "loud and energetic but not out of order."
Murray said he didn't hear any personal or verbal attacks on the players.
Nevertheless, Murray encourages civility and respect.
Murray also recalled fondly the games in the 1980s and early 1990s between Gilford and Laconia when they shared a superintendent.
"Now that was an intense rivalry," he said, noting both teams were very loud, very supportive but not generally out of order.
Gilford Superintendent Kent Hemingway said he was sorry to hear there were bad reports about the behavior of some of his team's fans in Manchester. He said he had staff and administrators at the game has heard "absolutely nothing".
He said Gilford, which won a NHIAA sportsmanship award in 2012-2013, has taken the rules of NHIAA very seriously.
Those rules dictate that all members are to act with a spirit of good sportsmanship and each school should have a set of procedures and policies to follow. The NHIAA rules say the principal of the school as building leader has this responsibility.
Efforts to contact Laconia High School Principal Jim McCollum this week were unsuccessful however, School Board Chair Joe Cormier said if the allegations about Laconia fans are true, he is very disappointed.
"We really don't tolerate this behavior and I am saddened to learn this," he said.
Superintendent Forsten said she was unable to be at either the game at Newfound or the semi-final game in Manchester, but said her administration is committed to promoting good sportsmanship with all of their teams.
"We've dedicated ourselves to good sportsmanship and we've seen that," she said.
"Our youth represent our community and we see good behavior most of the time." she said. Forsten said that instilling good behavior on the part of the students fans is generally very easy, however sometime adults will behave badly, somewhat tying the hands of the administrators.