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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: You and "Concerned Mom in Indiana" were dead right about parents who jeer and bully children in sports contests. Children's sports are about participation, sportsmanship, character development and other healthy habits that last a lifetime. It's inexcusable to jeer or berate sixth-graders on a basketball court. Had the parents and coaches spent more time in their YMCA, they would certainly have learned that.

YMCAs, which last year helped more than 7 million children learn about sports and sportsmanship, support a code for spectators that many adults would do well to heed:

YMCA SPECTATOR'S CODE

(1) Remember that children play organized sports for their own fun. They are not there to entertain you, and they are not miniature pro athletes.

(2) Be on your best behavior. Don't use profane language or harass players, coaches or officials.

(3) Applaud good plays by your own team AND the visiting team.

(4) Show respect for your team's opponents. Without them there would be no games.

(5) Never ridicule or scold a child for making a mistake during a competition.

(6) Condemn the use of violence in all forms.

(7) Respect the officials' decisions.

(8) Encourage players to always play according to the rules.

Abby, professional athletes are not always good role models for our children, but the good sportsmanship and healthy lifestyles gained in our country's gymnasiums and on its courts and playing fields can make our children good role models for each other, for us, and for future generations. But first, adults have to let them play and send them the right messages. -- DAVID R. MERCER, NATIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, YMCA OF THE USA

DEAR DAVID: I'm sure that many readers -- not to mention athletic coaches -- will thank you for sharing the YMCA's Spectator's Code. Put into action, it provides a healthy atmosphere for children to build not only athletic skills, but life skills as well.

I agree that children model their behavior after the adults who care for them, and they often learn more from what they observe than what they are told. That's why it's important for all adults -- not just sports heroes -- to set a good example.

DEAR ABBY: We have a problem. We just heard from some old friends we haven't seen in a while. They are coming for a visit and plan to stay at our home. They told us their arrival date, but didn't mention when they plan to leave.

I am having a disagreement with my husband over this. I say it is OK to ask our friends how long they plan to stay. He insists that it would be in poor taste to do so.

Who's right? -- UNSURE IN NEW MEXICO

DEAR UNSURE: There is nothing wrong with asking guests how long they plan to stay. A hostess needs that information in order to stock the refrigerator.

If their answer is "indefinitely," then I'd say you have a problem.

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