The blast of an air horn pierced the noise of the high school basketball game. The sound stopped the action on the court and brought Marshwood Athletic Director Rich Buzzell to the section of bleachers where students sat.

It was last winter’s season opener. The game wasn’t 30 seconds old. Buzzell’s frustration level was already spiking, which is why he remembers that night from 14 months ago so well.

He reminded his students of the policy that bans artificial noisemakers in high school settings like this. He asked for the air horn. No one responded.

As Buzzell turned and walked down the bleacher steps, an air horn sounded behind his back. One of the referees told Buzzell play wouldn’t resume until the athletic director had the horn in his hand.

Buzzell turned and faced the students. If the horn wasn’t offered up, the section would be cleared by the police. And so about 100 students were led out of the gym. When Buzzell looked at the empty rows of bleachers, he counted five air horns.

Why, he asked himself. Why? If it’s not air horns, it’s insulting chants, personalized to demean. Or obscene gestures. Or punches and kicks in the parking lot. If it’s Marshwood on one night, it’s your high school or mine on another night. Or the same night.

We’ve all been gulping for fresh air while swimming in the rising tide of disrespect. Buzzell wasn’t looking for a life raft for himself and his students that night. He wanted to drain the ugliness.

Up the Maine Turnpike in Biddeford, Dennis Walton was thinking the same thing. Actually, every athletic director probably wishes he didn’t have to play good cop, bad cop at games in crowded gyms or hockey rinks. Buzzell and Walton decided to be more proactive about it.

Monday, school principals from the Southern Maine Activities Association will listen to progress reports from several athletic directors on pilot programs started this year.

Unruly or disrespectful fans at Marshwood and Biddeford and three other schools have been given yellow cards, warning them of their behavior.

If the yellow card doesn’t have any effect, a red card can be issued and the fan is removed from the premises.

For the game or for the season. Different pilot programs have different penalties. Neither Buzzell nor Walton has issued a red card, which they hope means they’re beginning to change attitudes.

There’s a green card, too, per the suggestion of Kennebunk Athletic Director Thor Nilsen. Show exemplary civility and get a green card to redeem at the concession stand for a food item and a drink, thanks to the school booster groups who have joined the mission.

Away from school facilities, there’s an eagerness to see this work, too. Walton offered to pay the costs to the concession stand at the Biddeford Ice Arena but was told that won’t be necessary.

“I don’t give away the green cards like candy,” said Buzzell. Civility shouldn’t come at a price.

Both Buzzell and Walton introduced and explained the colored card policy to students before it went into effect. Leaders and ringleaders were asked to buy in. Don’t think of this as being part of policing, Buzzell told his students. Think of it as empowerment. Think of it as respect.

“We don’t want church mice,” said Buzzell. “We want fans. We want them loud. But it shouldn’t be that people come to events to be the show and not watch the show.”

Buzzell has done some reading. Yellow-red-green cards are not unique. New York high schools use them, for instance. It is a tool rather than a magic wand.

“I’m excited,” said Walton. “But we’re trying to change a culture and that won’t happen quickly. Sometimes the demons come back out.”

Buzzell says he’s heard mostly kudos from the Marshwood school community. Walton hears that, but also some complaints he’s muzzling school spirit. He’s not. Since when are personal attacks part of school spirit?

“There’s a need to be appropriate. Fans feel they’re entitled to say anything they want,” said Walton. ” ‘This is what you do when you go to a game.’ Well, it’s not.”

Walton won’t card adults or students from other schools, although others in this first winter might. He’s also found that lately, the yellow cards come out of his pocket less often.

Buzzell finds that he’s watching more of the games in his gym where the air of competition can get very hot. As opposed to the bleachers, where the air is also hot, but a little less mean.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

[email protected]