Social Media Impacts High School Sports in Mid-Missouri
COLUMBIA - Athletic Director David Egan vaguely remembers the first tweet he sent regarding a Rock Bridge athletic event.
"I can't remember if it was a boys soccer game or girls soccer game, but I remember Dr. (Jennifer) Mast, the athletic director at the time, had asked me to text her updates because she was supervising another event," Egan said. "I had texted her about a goal scored. Not 10 seconds after I sent her that I get this tweet from the @rbhsbruinbear as a text alert that was the exact same text I had just sent.
"I had worked tons of soccer games before and she's never asked me to text updates to her. Why is she asking for it now?" Egan said. "Then it made sense."
For prep sports reporter Rus Baer, the first use of social media at a high school sporting event was also anything but noteworthy.
"It just kind of evolved into something you just did at a game," Baer said. "I don't know when I got on Facebook. I don't know when I got on Twitter."
Baer has worked at the Columbia Daily Tribune since 1998 and he said he started tweeting at games approximately two years ago. His Twitter feed currently boasts over 1,000 followers.
Both men agree that while their initial experiences with social media were pretty insignificant, it can serve as a tool in spreading information.
"The primary reason I stay up with it is our teachers and parents are very involved, but it's hard because you're so busy," Egan said.
"Because I saw on Twitter how a game progressed, the next day at school even though I wasn't at the game, I could still go up to that kid and was like ‘man that sounds like heck of a game.' You could still talk in some detail with the kid," Egan said. "That's really cool from an educator standpoint in helping building relationships with kids."
"Twitter is becoming more of the AM radio. It gives you quick reports (and) information that I don't normally get," Baer said. "It's an accurate way to get information throughout the night."
Tolton Catholic High School is in its third year of existence. Tolton Athletic Director Chad Masters thinks the use of social media for his school is just beginning.
"We're at the tip of the iceberg on things we're trying to do with social media," Masters said. "We're trying to engage in it for a wider community."
"Social media helps tell the story of what our kids are doing," Egan said.
Twitter and social media can serve as a double-edged sword though, particularly when the student-athlete themselves make a questionable post.
"It reflects poorly on the kid, their parents, and the program," Baer said.
"Sometimes they say things that was better left inside of them," Masters said.
Both Egan and Masters said monitoring social media is not in the job description of a high school head coach, nor does it weigh into how a coach is evaluated at each respective school. They both stated most of their school's coaches were on Twitter anyways.
"We constantly have to counsel and talk to our student-athletes about responsible use, and what are things that are appropriate to be said over social media and what are things that are not," Masters said. "It's a great tool, but it can also be something that can cause harm in multiple ways."
"We do sort of expect our coaches to... have an awareness and need to make sure if our kids are putting anything inappropriately that we're addressing that," Egan said.
Baer himself has been victim to an inappropriate posting from a high school student athlete.
"It's a little uncomfortable if you're dealing with a high school kid who has ripped you in the past on Twitter," Baer said. "A lot of the high school coaches, I tell them, ‘Do you follow your kids on Twitter?' ‘Oh, no I don't get on Twitter.'
"As a high school coach you should be on top of that, you should be following all of your players and they should be following you. Whenever it gets too serious, too dramatic, and too negative, it's going to make you feel differently about someone because apparently they have those thoughts," Baer said. "They're just not comfortable to say it to someone's face."
"Social media provides these teachable moments," Egan said.
Rock Bridge's football team features wide receiver Alex Ofodile, a 4-star recruit as a junior, whose Twitter feed has nearly 1,200 followers. Egan made note of the vast support system around Ofodile, including his father A.J. Ofodile, Rock Bridge's current head football coach and a former NFL player.
However, Egan expressed concerns about recruitment of student-athletes without proper support systems in place looking out for the student-athlete's best interests.
"I do have concerns about the role of social media on a recruit," Egan said. "Particularly if that recruit doesn't have the family, or the coaching or the structure in place to help him."
Baer said he did not think social media exposure had any bearing on college recruitment.
"I don't think that there are any college coaches, especially at the football level and basketball level, wanting my opinion on who they should be recruiting," Baer said.
Baer did mention of peers in the St. Louis area who have told him of high school student-athletes having their scholarship revoked for inappropriate social media posts.
Despite what can go wrong from use of social media, Baer, Egan, and Masters were all proponents of using social media as a valuable tool of communication.
"A kid who can handle it responsibly and show some maturity could probably help themselves," Baer said.
Masters looked to use social media as a way to promote community values for the students of Tolton. Tolton's five Twitter feeds devoted to athletics has over 400 combined followers, with the athletic department's feed over 200 followers.
"It's something I really want to, as athletic director and a coach myself, to really figure out more and more ways to use it," Masters said. "It's a way to develop a fan base and a following of our community."
Like Masters, Egan also sees a social media as a teaching tool and a way to promote effective communication.
"We do our kids a disservice to say ‘you can't do it,' because that's not the real world. The real world is, social media is the primary motive of communication," Egan said. "We have to prepare kids to be successful in the real world. We have to be able to sort of model for kids how to use social media appropriately."