High schools review social media policy for athletes

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EAU CLAIRE COUNTY, Wis. (WEAU)- Local schools are reviewing their policies regarding social media and athletics after their counterpart near Appleton punished one of its student-athletes.

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, more commonly known as the WIAA, says it informed Hilbert High School about a recent tweet by April Gehl.

The tweet included profanity as it expressed disagreement with the WIAA’s sportsmanship policies, saying they’re simply too harsh.

The school took its own disciplinary actions against the student after being notified. It did not comment on exactly what the punishment was, but Gehl told WEAU 13 News late Monday that she was suspended for four-and-a-half games for an athletic code violation. She added that she felt the decision was a little extreme.

The WIAA says it’s receiving backlash as a result, which a spokesman says it doesn’t deserve.

“The email that I had sent with the screenshot with that tweet, with the profanity in it, basically I said, for your information, we customarily provide this to our member schools for their awareness,” WIAA Director of Communications Todd Clark said.

In light of the recent incident, local high schools are now taking a look at their policies regarding the use of social media.

“We address it to our players, I’m also head basketball coach here, about dealing with social media and the things that we should or should not address, to the things that could be said because that could come back to you and could cause some violations or penalties or some other problems along the way,” Rick Storlie said, the Fall Creek High School Athletic Director.

The WIAA says it's on the individual high schools to determine whether to punish students for behavior in athletics; it only informs but doesn't handle discipline.

“What they chose to do with it was apply their code, not the WIAA, we don't have anything in our rules that says youth or anything like this have to suspend somebody, that was completely the school,” Clark said. “WIAA, the only requirement that they do have is to have a code, They can do one game, they can do five games, they can do a whole season, they can do it a half a quarter, but you got to have a code of some sort, so that when something like this comes up and you can’t protect yourself because you don’t have it in writing.”
Social media is seen by many people as a form of free speech, however several athletic directors and high schools say how players act outside of the game is just as important as how they act during.

“I would hope that students would use social media for socializing and not voicing certain opinions about rules the WIAA might try to suggest at school districts or anything like that,” Mark Gobler said, President of Regis Catholic Schools.

Fall Creek Student athletes Cody and Whitney Folkers say they have an image to uphold, on and off the court.

“Little kids look up to you and know your name, and when you walk through the halls they see how you act and want to act that way,” Cody said.

“You’re not going to like everything that is thrown your way,” Whitney added. “You’re not going to appreciate what everyone has to say; you can still respect their opinions without being negative in a sense.”

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