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Nations: Central wins VHSL award

Kenny Rinker wasn't angling for a reward for promoting good sportsmanship at Central High School.

But when Rinker, Central's athletic director, learned that the Virginia High School League annually does just that by handing out the season-ending Claudia Dodson VHSL Sportsmanship, Ethics and Integrity Awards, he and school principal Chris Cook got together and decided, why not?

"To be quite honest, it wasn't anything that we weren't already doing," Rinker said.

Earning the VHSL's sportsmanship award was no slam dunk, however. A checklist detailing each prospective school's application to receive the award had to be filled out, and documentation for certain categories had to be supplied to the league. In other words, it involved a bit more than the VHSL simply taking Central's word for it.

That was OK, though -- Rinker and Cook were confident that their school could pass muster, and probably would have all along if they'd known about the annual award.

"It was mainly stuff that we had in place already and stuff that our coaches do independently as far as stressing sportsmanship to the kids," Rinker said. "It's not just the kids, of course -- it's our parents and our fans."

Ah yes, the fans ... an unpredictable lot, for sure. The VHSL application lists a number of criteria for parents and student spectators, behaviors each school's fans "consistently" exhibit. Here's the short version: Show respect for players, coaches and officials; give positive support to student athletes and performing groups; applaud outstanding performances by either team; follow the cheerleaders' directions regarding appropriate cheers; don't throw objects onto the playing area.

Rinker was able to check affirmative in each of those boxes this past season, and that's a credit to Central's fans -- and any others who refrain from the seemingly growing movement toward boorish behavior during games.

There are other categories, six in all, that the VHSL evaluates before passing out accolades for good sportsmanship. School administration and athletic directors, coaches, student-athletes, cheerleaders, and student support and performance groups join the fans in having to meet expectations.

This year, a record 34 high schools were awarded the Claudia Dodson award for sportsmanship. Many, like Central, garnered their first recognition. Others, like Virginia Beach's Ocean Lakes High School (16th award) and Frank W. Cox High School (12th), are old hands at winning the annual honor.

Rinker doesn't necessarily think Central is doing anything special, no more than the other area high schools which didn't earn the award this year.

"A lot of the stuff on there are routine things that all schools do, as far as having player meetings, parent meetings, what the school does to stress sportsmanship," Rinker said. "A lot of schools may be eligible, but they don't submit the application and therefore they're not recognized."

Central's proactive approach is best exemplified by three-sport athlete Ryan Rodriguez, who won the school's yearly Sportsmanship Award. Rodriguez had to earn that honor by exhibiting all the positive traits associated with sportsmanship throughout three different seasons, for three different coaches. Rodriguez, like Central, passed with flying colors.
Of course, perfection is rare for a reason -- Rinker did have to make one little deduction from his school's tally this year for a player ejection during soccer season. That cost 2.5 points from Central's school calculation, less than the deduction for a coach ejection (5 points) or inappropriate behavior at state championship events (10 points). Central had no infractions in either of those categories this year, and was able to comfortably score above the 90 percent cutoff line on its application.

Winning the award is an honor, but in doing so Central has set a bar for the future -- win it again, every year.

"You watch, we'll have 10 ejections in football next year," Rinker joked. "Nah, that's not going to happen. I don't think our kids would say 'Boo' if you paid them to say it.

"They're a quiet bunch of kids. When the game's over, they pack up and go home."

-- Sports editor Jeff Nations can be reached at jnations@nvdaily.com

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