Compassionate Ridgefield: School board to vet conduct signs for sports

Signs setting out rules for behavior at sports fields and gyms are being proposed by the Compassionate Ridgefield alliance. The four seals at the top are for the town, schools, Parks and Recreation Department and Compassionate Ridgefield.

Signs setting out rules for behavior at sports fields and gyms are being proposed by the Compassionate Ridgefield alliance. The four seals at the top are for the town, schools, Parks and Recreation Department and Compassionate Ridgefield.

Macklin Reid /

Compassionate Ridgefield’s delegation got a warm reception — school officials seemed to share and support its goals — but the Board of Education tabled action on a request that signs outlining acceptable behavior for sporting events be posted at school gyms and ballfields.

“Ridgefield Athletic Code of Conduct,” a sample sign distributed to the school board read. “Players, Parents. Coaches, Spectators:

“Be a positive role model.

“Respect the official’s calls.

“Use positive language only; no profanity.

“Encourage all players.

“Practice good sportsmanship.

“Respect the environment, clean up and recycle.

“Be modest in victory, gracious in defeat.

“Abiding by these rules will make the games more enjoyable for everyone. Thank you for your cooperation and for helping make Ridgefield sports more compassionate.”

Who would disagree? No one on the school board. But board members did have questions and concerns at their Oct. 28 meeting, after representatives of the Compassionate Ridgefield group gave a presentation on the signs.

Among the questions the board wanted answered was whether the signs might conflict with any existing code of conduct that the school system or high school athletic department — maybe even the board itself — may have adopted at some point in the past.

Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. JeanAnn Paddyfote said she would research that matter with Ridgefield High School Principal Stacey Gross and Athletics Director Dane Street.

“They raised some good questions,” Paddyfote said on Tuesday, Oct. 29. “I’ll work with Dane Street and Stacey to make sure it’s not a conflict with any code of conduct that the department has.”

37 locations

The signs proposal was presented to the board by three representatives of the Compassionate Ridgefield project — longtime youth sports coach Joe Walsh, Kerry Anne Ducey of Hamlet Hub and First Selectman Rudy Marconi.

Walsh told the school board that the Compassionate Ridgefield organizers were hoping to put the signs “outside all the fields and gyms in town” in order to make acceptable behavior clear to all who attend both youth sports events and games involving school teams.

Ducey said student interns working in First Selectman Marconi’s office had identified 29 outdoor fields and eight gymnasiums in town, where the Compassionate Ridgefield sports code of conduct signs should go up.

“The Board of Selectmen also approved it,” Ducey said of the signs’ language.

The signs would be 18 by 24 inches, and either aluminum or composite plastic, depending on how successful fund-raising for the project is — since the plans are for the signs to be put up without using any taxpayer dollars from either the Board of Education budget or the selectmen’s town budget.

Sporting events

Through its public meetings and open discussions with townspeople, the Compassionate Ridgefield group had identified sports events as scenes where undesirable behavior may come out — a conclusion supported by experience of people involved in Ridgefield sports, Walsh said.

“I’ve been coaching for 30 years,” Walsh told the board.

Marconi offered a description of the kind of positive sporting behavior Compassionate Ridgefield would like to encourage. He recalled a football game a few years back when the RHS Tigers were at home, playing a visiting Bridgeport Central team.

“The other team had no fans — zero. Our side was packed,” Marconi said. “All of a sudden a good number of them got up, went across the field, and started cheering for Bridgeport Central.”

School board member Kathleen Holz offered a motion to approve the signs, and it was seconded by Carina Borgia-Drake, allowing board discussion.

Seal logos

In addition to the wording, the proposed signs showed four logos: The Town of Ridgefield seal, the Ridgefield Public Schools seal, and the Parks and Recreation Department seal — all featuring a large tree — and the Compassionate Ridgefield seal, featuring the Cass Gilbert fountain.

“If this is going up, with the school seal on it, it’s a de facto code of conduct,” said board member Jonathan Steckler.

Board member James Keidel was concerned that the board’s approval of one sign would lead to numerous requests to approve other signs.

“We’re setting a precedent,” he said.

“Normally, a principal approves what goes up in a school,” board member Fran Walton said. “This is different, This is a town initiative.”

She did have concerns, though.

“I don’t want it to clash with the high school code of conduct,” Walton said.

“I don’t think it clashes, it complements,” said Chairwoman Margaret Stamatis.

“Do we need to approve it for it to be put up?” wondered Borgia-Drake.

Superintendent Paddyfote focused on the message of the proposed signs.

“When you look at what’s there, it’s good material,” she said.

The motion to table, allowing the administration time to research issues raised, was made by Borgia-Drake. “I feel a little uncomfortable,” she said.

The motion to table was approved 6-to-0 with Keidel and Tracey O’Connor abstaining.

Compassionate Ridgefield organizers have lots of plans beyond the posting of the signs.

“In May, we’re going to be signing a charter to be a city of compassion,” Ducey said. “We’re really hoping to become a movement in the community.”