Schools’ sportsmanship video hopes to inspire better behavior on the sidelines

Kirk Sullivan, left, a Saranac Lake High School alumnus and director of the “SLCD Spectators PSA,” is seen Nov. 14, 2018, when the video was filmed. (Photo provided by Alex Giroux)

SARANAC LAKE — In a darkened auditorium, members of the Saranac Lake High School concert band just play their opening notes before a member of the crowd shouts, “Hey conductor, how about something new! You played this last year!”

The conductor glances over his shoulder, shocked, as other crowd members pile on the abuse.

That’s how “SLCSD Spectators PSA,” a video by Saranac Lake Central School District, starts. The 33-second video is meant to inspire better behavior from the sidelines of sports events.

The video was the idea of Eric Bennett, athletic director for Saranac Lake schools, who has been calling for more “class and character” from spectators at sporting events. He wrote a letter to the editor of the Enterprise about it in November and an op-ed essay on the subject in 2014.

“I’ve been to other events where kids performed, notably at concerts,” Bennett said. “I was just thinking about the difference between students performing on a field or a rink wasn’t too drastically different from in the arts.”

A page of the storyboard by storyboard artist Alex Giroux is seen for the “SLCD Spectators PSA,” filmed on Nov. 14, 2018. (Image provided by Alex Giroux)

He thought that disparity in the way audiences act — being generally supportive at arts events, but not always so in sports — was worth highlighting.

Bennett said he’s seen sports elicit passion and emotion from spectators that can go to dark places: mob mentality, harsh heckling of coaches and officials, and screaming at players. He said spectator behavior is an across-the-board problem in athletics culture-wide.

Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, and Robert Zayas, executive director of New York State Public High School Athletic Association, addressed the issue in a letter to the editor that the Enterprise published Thursday. They said more than 75 percent of all high school athletic officials say “adult behavior” is the main reason they quit, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Sports Officials.

This, they say, is leading to a shortage of officials for sporting events.

Bennett said he mentioned his idea about a year ago to independent filmmaker and SLHS alumnus Kirk Sullivan, who recently moved back here from Los Angeles with his family.

“I thought it was a clever way to convey a positive message,” Sullivan said. He said he reconnected with Bennett about six months ago and doubled down on the idea, saying, “Hey, I’m still serious about doing this.”

Sullivan, working as director and producer, pulled together a minimal budget for equipment and crew with his production company Bing Bang Boom.

Sullivan’s sister Katie, also a SLHS alumna, worked as a production assistant on the project.

Bennett and the school district agreed it was doable, and the video was shot on Nov. 14, in about two-and-a-half hours.

“I’m not expecting people to police the behaviors of other fans in the stands, but hopefully what they do is recognize their own behavior in the moment,” Bennett said. “You can lead with your actions.”

The video was edited by another SLHS alumnus, Peder Trusiak, who lives in Florida.

Bennett said he’d like to focus on the same concept in another approach, next time looking at the relationship between officials and fans.

“I think there’s a lot of material here,” Bennett said.

He said he was very thankful for Sullivan’s effort, who essentially volunteered his time to make the project happen.

“This shoot was a great example of how our community is able to come together to accomplish impressive results,” Sullivan said. “Everyone was eager to participate, it was a good chance for the students to see how a professional production is executed, and it was for a good cause to promote sportsmanship. It was a real pleasure to make happen.”

Watch the video at