Across the country there’s a shortage of high school game officials, and Massachusetts isn’t immune to the epidemic.
Many longtime officials attribute the decline to unruly adults. Parents and fans lack respect for the referees, said Bill Stewart III, a third-generation referee who serves on the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association’s game officials committee.
“I hate to see sports ruined like this,’’ he told the Globe’s Bob Hohler. Read our story here.
But it’s not just New England.
In Oklahoma, one official quit mid-game due to the abuse from fans.
“The guy takes off his officiating hat. He takes off his whistle. He takes his flag out of his pocket,” Robert Breedlove told the Tulsa World, “and he says, ‘Here. You can have these. I didn’t sign up for this.’ And the guy leaves the game.
“This gives you a thumbnail sketch of what’s going on in the world of officiating high school football. Whether it’s Tulsa, Oklahoma, or Tallahassee, Florida, or Bozeman, Montana, it doesn’t make any difference. It’s the same. That’s what’s going on.”
From 2008 to 2018, Pennsylvania lost almost 10 percent of its sports officials, according to WNEP. The reason? Fans.
“Those interviewed who have left officiating are asked for a reason and they always say it’s coach and fan abuse. Far and away that’s the No. 1 reason,” Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association vice president Pat Gebhart told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Just last year, we had a fan come out of the stands at a junior high wrestling tournament and punch an official three times.”
Physical violence against officials has been reported in central Iowa, too. One coach was charged with harassment after accosting a referee during a football game.
In New Mexico, more than a dozen games had to be canceled by the start of October because of referee abuse. The number of soccer referees is already at an all-time low in the state, and it’s getting worse:
“I think what’s been a little bit alarming is it’s some of our veteran officials who have been doing it for a number of years,” Dusty Young, the associate director of the New Mexico Activities Association, told KRQE. “We recently just had one leave the association who’s a well-respected referee, been doing it over 20 years and finally he was just fed up.”
What can be done? The National Federation of State High School Associations has been distributing a video called “The Parent Seat” that it hopes will put into perspective for spectators what their actions can do to the student athletes and the officials.
■ Develop an awareness: Recognize that you might be part of the problem in the stands.
■ Understand the benefits: Remember what your athlete gets out of the sport.
■ Embrace the growth and development of your student: Take a hands-off approach. It can be difficult for parents but rewarding for athletes.
■ Visualize yourself as a respectful spectator: Emphasize enjoying the experience and having fun over the competition.
■ Exercise before a game: Relieve stress and increase endorphins before a game to make it easier to keep cool.
■ Participate in a relaxing activity: Get into a positive state of mind before a competition to help keep stress down.
■ Take a break: If you feel your emotions getting the best of you, head to the restroom or the concession stand to get out of the situation.
■ The 24-hour rule: If you want to confront someone, take time to collect your thoughts. Revisit the situation the next day and make a phone call if you need to.
■ Be responsible: Set a good example for other students -- not just your own.
■ Support your student: Focus on the fun and be a good listener. Supporting your athlete will improve your relationship with them.
If you want to go further than that, you can apply to be a high school official. The National Federation of State High School Associations is running a nationwide campaign to recruit for a number of sports.