Sports copy 101

Is it girl’s basketball or girls’ basketball? Neither actually. Sports grammar and style can be tricky, especially if you’re not super familiar with all the sports. Here’s seven suggestions to clean up your sports copy.

Your school's name

It’s not necessary to mention your school in stories or captions. The name is on the spine, cover and title page. It’s also readily assumed students reading your book go to your school and know what school you’re talking about.

In addition, try to minimize the use of the mascot in sports copy. Preferably when referring to the team, say their specific name or if a later reference, a general one: the junior varsity volleyball team, freshman boys basketball, the varsity team, the team, players, etc.

Versus & the game against

Strive to avoid using versus and “the game against” in your copy. As noted, readers understand your school was participating. Simply use the opponent’s name and if a shared spread, the team level or gender.

At the back of the court, senior Jessica Martinez serves during the Westwood match.

Sophomore Travis Nguyen rushes for a 24-yard touchdown in the junior varsity Smithville win.

On the sidelines, freshmen Trisha Thompson and Nina Rodriguez wait to enter the freshman A Lake Charles game.

In the JV B match, junior Richard Bruce maneuvers around Bishop defenders.

19_Hardin Valley_sports captions

In both of these sports captions from Hardin Valley Academy, note the omission of versus or “the game against.” This allows for a more concise and stronger first sentence.

Opponent team names

You may have noticed all the above examples included the opponent’s team name. Make sure all captions include the team you’re playing against. This is important historical and reference data that needs to be included.

Your school’s team names

Place the team level before the gender when referring to specific teams. Avoid putting the gender first.

Freshman girls basketball

Junior varsity boys soccer

If the sport only involves one gender, don’t add that information. But do include the level.

Varsity volleyball

Freshman football

There is disagreement on whether schools should refer to teams using girls and boys or women and men. College teams use the latter which some high schools have adopted. The majority of schools still use the former. Be consistent for all sports teams with whichever choice you decide.

Finally, do not use any apostrophes when referring to sports teams. It is not the varsity girl’s basketball team or the boys’ soccer team. It is not possessive. The team does not belong to a single athlete or a group of them. The team belongs to the school.

Games & matches

Volleyball, soccer and tennis teams play matches. Avoid using the word “games” when you’re referring to the overall match. Tennis and volleyball both play games/points, then sets to win the match.


When you list scores on a scoreboard or in a story, the rule of thumb is to put the winning score first. It’s redundant to say 21-28 loss. You should write 28-21 loss in a story and 28-21 L in a scoreboard. Also, in scoreboards, put the W, L or T (win, loss or tie) AFTER the score, not before it.


It should stay out of captions and stories. Avoid saying the team worked hard or the quarterback effortlessly throws the ball. You’re writing history and history is factual. Staffers should share the story of the year objectively, without interjecting opinions or cheerleading. Let the quotes be the opinions.

Need additional help? Check out this cheat sheet of sports terminology and grammar, based on The Associated Press Stylebook guidelines.

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