Mustangs News · Protecting the Game: Fan Behavior Leads to Shortage of Referees in High School Sports


This article clip was written by Joe Davidson at Max Preps. Click to read entire article.

You hear it at most every game.

Sometimes, when it becomes really volatile, you feel it, too.

There is venom in the air; anger and spite thrown around as much as a ball in action.

Go to a high school sporting event, in any part of the country, and it’s bound to be there in some form: Team A vs. Team B, and fans vs. referees.

Shoot, go to a Little League game, a Pop Warner event, a girls softball or volleyball tournament, and it’s there.
Fans — namely parents — take sports entirely too serious. While their intentions may initially appear noble — they want the best for their child — their approach often exceeds common sense and common decency. They become boorish. They embarrass themselves, and no one feels that shame more than their child.

Too many are convinced that referees are out to get their team, and they let the referees, officials or umpires know it with words, and, sometimes, threats.

“Who paid you?”

“You guys are always against us!”

The ripple effect is alarming. Participation numbers for referees are in decline across the country. It’s easy to see why: who wants to get verbally accosted, or physically confronted for $35 or $65 a game?

According to the National Association of Sports Officials, 80 percent of referees/officials walk away from their craft. And in surveys with nearly 17,500 officials, 75 percent cite “adult behavior” as the reason for their exit. These studies also reveal there are more officials over the age of 60 than 30 and under, which means the gap in age makes it difficult to cycle in new bodies.

The shortage of licensed high school officials is so severe that in some parts of the country freshmen and junior varsity contests have been postponed or canceled. There have been discussion in California that if the numbers do not increase favorably, coaches will have to referee or umpire games. Imagine that chaos.

Either that or it’s this: No ref, no game, and the loser in all of that are the kids.

Pump the brakes

Governing bodies across the country for high school sports have tried to emphasize the message of pursuing victory with honor. But it takes everyone involved to make it work. In seminars and meetings with state member schools, the plea for parental calm will continue.

In that effort, National Federation of State High School Association’s Karissa Niehoff has teamed with state commissioners across the land to share this message to parents: Cool it.
“The time has come for everyone involved in the game to ‘pump the brakes’ as it relates to conduct at games,” Niehoff wrote in part in statements posted on federation sites from Kentucky to California. “Make no mistake about it. Your passion is admired, and your support of the hometown team is needed. But so is your self-control.

“Yelling, screaming and berating the officials humiliates your child, annoys those sitting around you, embarrasses your child’s school and is the primary reason (there is) an alarming shortage of high school officials.”

Added Kentucky High School Athletic Association Commissioner Julian Tackett, “This is a game played by imperfect humans, coached by imperfect humans and officiated by imperfect humans. I don’t know if it’s the higher levels’ insatiable desire for perfection through replays and announcers who think they know everything or the tone and tenor of general conversation in our country, but this cannot be allowed to continue in this level of sport and this level be maintained.”

It’s not just a referee shortage issue at play here. It’s a society issue, a cultural conflict where spectators feel they have the right to attack and berate, and that creates the domino effect.

Our theme: Mute it. Observe and be thankful.