The sudden controversy about face and body paint at sporting events has surprised Sandusky school officials.
"Body painting has never been allowed," high school principal Dan Poggiali said. "As long as I've been here we haven't allowed it. For this to become an issue now, it's puzzling."
This issue was re-ignited after school officials spotted some female students in the stands at a recent football game wearing sports bras instead of shirts, Poggiali said. The girls had painted letters on their bodies to spell out "Streaks" when they lined up in the right order.
After this and a few previous incidents, school officials decided it was time to remind students of the rule.
Poggiali has had to re-enforce the policy throughout the years, but said he has never had as much negative feedback as he has in dealing with it now.
Sandusky's policy on face and body painting is stricter that the rules set forth by the Ohio High School Athletic Association and the Greater Buckeye Conference.
The OHSAA rule states shirts and appropriate attire must be worn by all spectators during OHSAA indoor tournaments. The GBC rule says spectators will not be allowed in the gymnasium unless they're wearing shirts.
District officials modified the rules for Sandusky schools. The most recent policy states spectators who attend events indoors or outdoors must wear shirts and must not have their faces or bodies covered in body paint.
With threats of gang-related activities and "color wars," eliminating body paint helps keep students clear of what could be dangerous situations, school officials say.
"If people knew what we've prevented, they'd applaud us," Poggiali said.
"When we go out there, we don't get to watch the games; we're busy controlling possible problems. That takes a lot of effort. We're not being heavy-handed. The last thing I want to do is squash school spirit. Our spirit isn't what it used to be years ago, and that's not because of paint."
A story about the re-enforcement of that policy generated more than 200 comments at sanduskyregister.com.
Some supported the school's policy.
A true blue streak wrote: "School spirit...? School safety...? Those of you who do not visit SHS daily do not have a clue on the changes happening today in 2007!!!! Painted bodies are a small sign of school spirit -- there is so much more happening. The dress code has added a (behavior) change, grade change and attitude change -- after all grades count #1 before a student can even play a sport. Before you (criticize) the administration -- walk in their shoes. They do everything possible to make schools a safe environment for children to learn. ..."
Mom of 2 hs kids wrote: "Hooray for Principal Poggiali, I am glad that finally a local principal finally said no to body paint and shirtless fans. The students can show their school spirit by wearing proper attire. I was appalled last year when I attended a PHS/St. Mary's football game and saw girls wearing sport bras and very low rise jeans and body paint from both schools. First of all sport bras are bras and they should be worn under clothing. Second of all ... inappropriate attire reflects poorly on the school and the community ... Students if you want to show your school spirit, paint t-shirts, paint a flash on your cheek and cheer for your team."
Some of the negative comments threatened the family and property of athletic director Dale Sartor, who stated the policies and the reasoning behind them in the Register story.
Several people who wrote comments against the policy also threatened to withhold levy support.
Tax Payer wrote: "After making stupid decisions like this one, I will be voting NO on the next levy. It (might) hurt the kids a little, but we have to let them know how we feel. We can't just sit back and let all this happen!"
Sandusky Resident wrote: "Thank you SHS administrators ... my husband and I are voting NO for your levy. The money obviously isn't being spent wisely."
These statements were countered by commenter lum, who wrote: "... I can not believe that community members are really considering voting down a school levy because students cannot paint their bodies at sporting events. I graduated in 2003 and these same rules applied to us, so it's not like they just made them up last week. I sincerely hope that you parents realize what you are doing by voting no on this school levy ...."
John Schumm, an active member of the levy committee, said the brashness of those disagreeing with the school's decision is overwhelming -- but in the end, he believes the community knows just how important it is to pass the levy.
"It's not going to hurt the levy, and I'll tell you why -- A very small group of negative people tend to be the most vocal," he said. "The majority of the community supports the uniforms, and just as many support the levy. There are several other ways to show spirit: pep rallies, parades, car painting, etc."
Poggiali said no parents or community members have met with him to personally address the issue, only confused students.
"We've had students come in asking why the rules are the way they are," Poggiali said. "When they leave the office, they leave understanding why we're doing what we're doing."