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Copyright 2013 Journal Sentinel Inc.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Wisconsin)
October 13, 2013 Sunday
Early Edition
Sports; Pg. 1
1108 words
Digital dark side: Social media in prep athletics growing, not always for better | PREPS ALCOVE
JR RADCLIFFE, Kettle Moraine Index (Dousman, WI)

"The only reason we were bad this yr is cuz of are coachin."

"january 26 everyone should come watch us cross up milwaukee king #metaldetectors" "We just gave Sheboygan South a puppy, let them fall in love with it for years, then proceeded to murder it in front of them."

"Gary Anderson is the next Lane Kiffin."

These might seem nasty, but they're at least printable, unlike many other examples Travis Wilson can think of. The Wisconsin Sports Network content manager has become one of the foremost experts on all things Wisconsin prep athletics, helping to distinguish his outfit's web presence (wissports.net) as the primary destination for box scores, stats and original content.

As plugged in as he is, Wilson also knows a thing or two about the various media that have changed the landscape of sports coverage in the past decade. He also knows there's a dark side.

Consider the top example, written by a prep football player on the WSN Facebook page. Or the comments on Twitter posted by current players in the next three examples, notably the last one from a Division 1 in-state recruit who wasn't pursued by Wisconsin (and compared Andersen to the fallen-from-grace ex-USC coach after committing elsewhere).

"I don't think many coaches are familiar enough with the medium to know that it can be an issue," Wilson said. "I think many would rather ignore it or don't want to spend the time to monitor it. However, I think it is becoming more and more important that coaches at least takes steps to educate their players. "If I was a coach, I would have a meeting before the season to talk about the proper uses of social media, the dangers of it, and collect everyone's Twitter handles. I would create a list on Twitter and put all players on it. Even if I didn't monitor every single post, the access to do so would be there, and the players would know they need to be on their best behavior."

There are numerous positives to the proliferation of social media, but the unprecedented level of access can create an immediate firestorm faster than you can say #karma.

Fighting words

In September, several football players on Madison Memorial and Madison West were disciplined following an on-field fight after the two teams faced off at Mansfield Stadium. But that's not necessarily where the fight began.

"I follow a couple of the top players in the Madison area and saw some chirping amongst the Madison school athletes," Wilson said. "Not necessarily by the top players themselves, but there were several retweets and other things. When I heard about the fight, it didn't surprise me. The Twitter trash talking certainly played a role in what happened, but those teams have a history from what I understand, with an altercation in a JV game when they were sophomores.

"I've seen quite a few other instances of trash talking as well, and with 400-plus teams around the state, I'd guess it happens very frequently."

Wilson pointed out that roughly 10 players from Menomonie were suspended last year after using unapproved supplements and were caught after talking about it on Twitter, where an ex-player saw it and reported it. Wilson also notes the danger of a website called ask.fm, where anyone can set up a page and encourage others to ask anonymous questions of them.

"It has often turned into a case for high schoolers to anonymously bully other kids, adults to harass high-level athletes considering or committed to other colleges, and generally a cesspool," Wilson said. "A coach in Utah recently made headlines when he suspended his entire team in large part as a result of his players bullying other students on the site."

When the University of Wisconsin football team lost a highly controversial game against Arizona State earlier this year, the wife of former UW coach Brett Bielema infamously tweeted a single word - #karma - and ignited a massive response from Badgers fans angry over her flippant reaction. From the comforts of the sofa in front of the television, one word punched into a cell phone is all it takes, and there aren't many safety nets for anyone, let alone the impulsive teenage crowd.

Positive uses

To be sure, Twitter and Facebook have also played a positive role in the evolving world of prep athletics.

"It has allowed players to communicate with each other and develop and continue bonds with opponents," Wilson said. "I've seen many instances of players tweeting congratulations or notes of encouragement to others, sometimes at rival schools."

In a recent example, Sussex Hamilton basketball player Brady Ellingson and Brookfield Central standout Riley La-Chance - teammates in the AAU circuit but both key players for Greater Metro Conference rivals - publicly offered congratulations when the other committed to a Division 1 university over the past two weeks. Both players also announced their commitments on Twitter.

"It is becoming more common for players to announce new offers or commitments via Twitter rather than contacting 15 different recruiting writers," Wilson said.

Many coaches make use of Twitter to put forth their messages, usually positive reinforcement for their players and others affiliated with the program. New Berlin Eisenhower assistant coach Rob Leboeuf uses the medium to communicate with his position group.

"Maybe I want to share videos on quick drills so they know what to expect the next day and what it should look like," Leboeuf said. "I try to use it for positive messages as much as I can. Aside from that, I also use it to spy on our kids and make sure they're using social media appropriately.

"I've had a couple discussions with players using it inappropriately at first. You can use it as a teachable moment. You're leaving your electronic fingerprints here, and that stuff is going to be there forever. Prospective employers may be looking at that (down the road). Recruiters are looking at that stuff too, how you are on Twitter, what kind of messages you're sending."

On another front, Twitter has allowed for enhanced realtime update capabilities, particularly for those attending a varsity game looking for other scores that might not be available elsewhere on the Internet. The #wisfb hashtag has been utilized to aggregate updates. "It also allows us and other media outlets to promote our articles and properties," Wilson said. "A great aspect of social media is that it is just that, social. We can quickly and easily interact with followers, answer questions and even reach out to people."

Follow Wilson on Twitter (@traviswsn) or read his weekly commentary on state football "From the Hip" on the Wisconsin Sports Network site.

Copyright 2013 Journal Sentinel, All Rights Reserved.

October 12, 2013

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