The NFHS Baseball Rules Committee and the NFHS Board of Directors believes there are areas of the game of interscholastic baseball that need to be addressed and given special attention. These areas of concern are often cyclical – some areas need more attention than others, and that is why they might appear in the rules book for consecutive editions. These concerns are identified as “Points of Emphasis.” For the 2023 high school baseball season, attention is being called to: Sportsmanship, Obstruction and Interference, Jewelry and Usage of Eye Black. When a topic is included in the Points of Emphasis, these topics are important enough to reinforce throughout the academic year because additional attention is warranted.

Good sporting behavior is one of the fundamental ingredients to the continued success and enjoyment of education-based high school sports and activities. In fact, in the 103-year history of organized high school sports in the United States, good sportsmanship has been one of the most important outcomes of high school activity programs.

NFHS playing rules are written to encourage sportsmanship. Participation in these programs should promote respect, integrity and sportsmanship. However, for these ideals to occur, everyone involved in these programs must be doing their part.

The NFHS is concerned that unsporting behavior in education-based athletics has increased across all sports. As a result, the NFHS has made sportsmanship the No. 1 Point of Emphasis for the 2022-23 school year.

Sportsmanship, or good sporting behavior, is about treating one another with respect and exhibiting appropriate behavior. It is about being fair, honest and caring. When these types of appropriate behavior occur, competitive play is more enjoyable for everyone.

Coaches set the tone at athletic contests with their display of sportsmanship. If these individuals act in a sportsmanlike manner, their behavior sets the tone for players, spectators and others. If coaches, however, are complaining constantly about the decision of contest officials, spectators are more likely to do the same.

There must be a collaborative, working relationship between contest officials and game administration to promote good sportsmanship and safely conduct the contest. Everyone has their roles to play in creating a positive, sportsmanlike atmosphere at contests.

Officials should focus on the actions of players, coaches and other bench/sideline personnel. A positive, open line of communication between officials and coaches ultimately results in a better contest for everyone involved.

Contest officials, however, should never engage with spectators who are exhibiting unsporting behavior. Once the contest begins, school administration is responsible for dealing with unruly spectators. A proactive approach by school administration includes monitoring the behavior of spectators and intervening as needed.

If spectators are using demeaning or profane language at officials – or at others in the stands – those individuals should be removed from the contest by school administration.

In recent years, a heightened level of unsportsmanlike behavior has been occurring by spectators at high school sporting events, and it must be stopped. The use of demeaning language, or hate speech, by students, parents and other fans must cease.

High school sports and other activities exist to lift people up, not demean or tear people down. The goal is to treat everyone fairly and treat each other with respect. Any speech or harassment that is insulting, demeaning or hurtful will not be tolerated.

High schools must establish a culture that values the worth of every single person – both players on the school’s team and players on the opposing team. There must be a no-tolerance policy regarding behavior that shows disrespect for another individual.

Good sports win with humility, lose with grace and do both with dignity. It takes the efforts of everyone every day to ensure that sportsmanship remains one of the top priorities in education-based activity programs.

Obstruction and Interference
Obstruction and interference are two familiar terms that have been in the game of baseball since the early beginnings of the sport. Simply stated, obstruction is any act accidental, intentional, verbal, or physical that a fielder or any member of the defensive team (or team personnel) that hinders a runner or affects the pattern of play. Besides affecting scoring plays, obstruction can occur anywhere on the field resulting in some unsportsmanlike behaviors. That is why the penalties for obstruction are some of the sternest penalties in our rules code. Interference is very similar to obstruction; it addresses the behavior of the offensive team. It is any act, verbal or physical by the team at bat that impedes, hinders or confuses any defensive fielder attempting to make a play. There are several other types of interference: spectator, umpire, follow-through and backswing. Umpire interference is when the umpire-in-chief accidently moves in the way of the catcher’s attempt to throw or when a live ball or thrown ball touches the umpire. Spectator interference is when a spectator for either team impedes the progress of the game in any way. Follow-through interference is when the bat of the batter in the batter’s box hinders action at home plate or when the catcher is attempting to make a play on a runner. Backswing interference is when the batter contacts the catcher or the catcher’s equipment prior to the pitch.

As one might realize, there are many nuances to both obstruction and the multi-layers of interference. Coaches, umpires and players have a role in understanding the rules of two extremely powerful rules. Because both violations are sportsmanship-centered at their core, the penalties are commensurate to the overarching concern regarding fair and equitable play in interscholastic baseball.

Jewelry in baseball was originally defined as any item on the body of the player that was not a natural part of the person. That also included medical-alert bracelets and some religious, cultural or tribunal adornments. The elimination of the jewelry rule will permit players to wear these items freely. Additionally, with that freedom to wear jewelry, please note that any jewelry that contains profanity, taunting, language to intimidate or baiting an opponent would not be allowed under our sportsmanship rule, bench and field conduct policies. Besides those examples, there is existing rule coverage that gives guidance on any player equipment that presents a danger to the player, teammate or opponent.

Usage of Eye Black
Eye black has been a staple in the sport of baseball since the 1930s. Originally, the first introduction of eye black was a grease substance made out of beeswax, paraffin and carbon to help players reduce glare from the sun. It has evolved to a less messy version as a plastic sticker placed under the eye socket that does not run when wet from perspiration or soils the uniform. The grease version of eye black is now being used as a face decoration. Images and/or sayings are being drawn on the faces of the players to try to intimidate and/or taunt an opponent. There are existing sportsmanship rules available to mitigate any use of eye black (in any version) in an inappropriate or unfavorable way. We are hopeful that coaches direct their players to use this convenient tool in a more productive way.