By: Ryan Poe
Imagine being harshly ridiculed at your job, not by coworkers, but by random people you don’t even know. They boo you, criticize you, threaten you, and in extreme cases get in physical altercations with you.
Welcome to the life of a sports official.
There is no doubt about it that there has been a lack of referees in recent years. And with the amount of abuse they get from fans, coaches, and players, are we shocked? A study has shown that two-thirds of new officials dropped out in their first three years. That’s an astonishing number, luckily those who don’t drop out are usually in it for the long haul.
Age is the one of the biggest factors of why there is an insufficient amount of officials. Nearly every ref out on the field is over the age of 50, or nearing it. Michael Costello, a teacher at Zeeland East and West High School and part time official said the following “Most young officials start out officiating low level competition (rocket football, little league baseball etc). These coaches and fans are BY FAR the worst when it comes to how officials are treated on the field. They are booed! They are hollered at. Usually by coaches and fans who do not know what they are talking about. By the time an official gets to varsity level competition it gets much more enjoyable. Far too often officials quit before they make it that far because of the way they are treated.” Since new referees are not sticking with it, and these older refs are retiring (or will be retiring in the near future) it becomes the perfect concoction for the inadequate amount of officials.
The lack of referees has a major effect on high school sports, because if there’s no one to officiate a game (or too few) the game has to be cancelled. This perpetuates a downward spiral of events. The officials won’t get paid, the players don’t get to play a game that they were looking forward to all week, and the parents won’t get to see their kid play. In an interview with Jordan Bandstra, the athletic director at Hamilton High School, Bandstra said “Being an athletic director, I’ve gotten a call from an umpire that was scheduled to work a varsity baseball game. He told me that the game had to be cancelled because there wasn’t another umpire. It’s unfortunate that they can’t even scrape the bottom of the barrel to get enough officials to work one game.”
One of the biggest red flags that might keep people from officiating is the recent harm that refs have taken from players. In August of 2014, during a Michigan adult soccer league, a man was about to be ejected from the game when he punched the referee. The referee died two days later in the hospital. On September 4, 2015, during a San Antonio High School football game, an assistant coach told two of his players to deliberately blind side a referee. Both players were ejected and the referee was pretty banged up. Obviously both these events are extremely tragic and should not be ignored. It’s understandable that players get passionate about the sport they’re playing, but to go as far as taking cheap shots at officials, that’s just too far.
Now those are just rare occurrences but nonetheless worrisome. However, the life of officiating is immensely beneficial believe it or not. Michael Costello stated “The personal growth that comes from officiating is immeasurable. I am a different (better) person in all walks of life because of officiating and the skills/tactics for dealing with people that I have learned on the field.” Along with that Costello also voiced “Being on the field with my crew-mates working a varsity game on a friday night. That is why we do all that we do…to prepare for those games.”
While being an official, you receive abuse from others that people should not have to endure. However, if one is pondering the thought of becoming a referee the main thing to be said is stay with it! Sure the start of it may be slow, and you get hassled by others, but they need to look beyond what’s happening at the moment. The nation needs officials on the field. Otherwise, high school sports as we know them, could cease to exist.