The organization that runs Minnesota's high school tournaments says it's working with students, educators and parents to address racist taunts and remarks at sporting events.

Minnesota State High School League Executive Director Erich Martens detailed the organization's plans to state legislators during a House Education Policy Committee meeting Monday. His testimony comes after several schools, from New Prague to Minnetonka, have addressed racism in their sports programs in the past few weeks.

He said recent news reports detailing racist taunting and bullying during high school sporting events don't necessarily correlate with an increase in such incidents. But Martens told lawmakers they represent a troubling trend nonetheless.

"These events clearly indicate that there is more work to do," he said.

Late last week, Martens and Bob Driver, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals, co-authored a letter to administrators and coaches across the state to remind officials of their responsibilities in addressing harassment during sporting events.

League policy, they wrote, allows officials to suspend athletes for "engaging in harassment or violence at any time, not just during an MSHSL activity." Martens and Driver also reminded school officials that it's their responsibility, not the league's, to monitor crowds for unruly behavior.

They wrote that principals can eject spectators who are "engaging in harassing behavior on school property." Once ejected, Martens and Driver wrote, that person is trespassing if they try to return to the school, emphasizing that trespassing is a misdemeanor.

"This is a powerful tool for dealing with inappropriate behavior by adults, visitors, or other individuals," they wrote.

While lawmakers largely agreed with Martens' approach, Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said he hoped the renewed focus on bullying and harassment didn't lead to a crackdown on harmless ribbing.

"It's disappointing that we've reached a point where we need to do more regulation of cheering," he said.

Martens said he and other athletics officials were conscious of those concerns, noting that headline-making incidents have fallen squarely outside the boundaries of good sportsmanship.

"We need to clean that up, and our schools are working really hard at that," Martens said.

Minnetonka High's girls' basketball coach stepped down after a player was accused of calling her classmates a racist slur. The incident led the team to forfeit two of its games.

In response to separate incidents, the St. Louis Park and Robbinsdale school districts have pledged to sit out any athletic contests with New Prague High after students and fans from that school taunted visiting players during a girls' basketball game and boys' hockey match in mid-February.

In their note to school administrators and coaches, Martens and Driver encouraged officials to proactively condemn harassing behavior and to make it easy for students to report their concerns. They told administrators, in particular, to train their staff in how to respond to students' concerns and go through hypotheticals.

In addition to the note, the league is partnering with a handful of other organizations to put together so-called Belonging Committees composed of students, parents and educators across the state to discuss school climate.

Martens told lawmakers the league is asking districts to ensure the members of those committees come from diverse backgrounds so they properly represent students most affected by bullying behavior.

"We need to take action at a local level," he said. "We need to make sure our events are safe and appropriate for everyone."