When competition gets heated during a sporting event, it’s easy to get carried away.
Emotions can run high on the field and in the stands, and there’s only a small group of officials there to make sure the game runs smoothly and the environment stays positive.
Officials are a necessary part of the game, but a lack of officials from youth and recreational sports on up through middle school and high school puts a strain on officiating crews and associations.
“It’s not good,” Rome-Floyd Parks & Recreation Department Interim Athletic Director Rick Haase said. “Younger people are not taking up the avocation, because of the intensity of the environment, the hostility among parents, and not just in youth, it’s pretty bad at any level.”
Haase feels a general attitude of criticism of officials on television has a trickle-down effect that flows into local sports.
“People watch so much more sports on TV now,” Haase said. “You can’t watch a college basketball game where there are not stops in the action because the officials are going to replay. And then you’ve got announcers that are criticizing the officials. Sports officiating is the only profession where you’re expected to be perfect and get better. It’s hard to find people. It’s hard to pay them.”
Greg Norton, the booking secretary for the Northwest Georgia Football Officials Association, believes there are a number of reasons for that, including that most new officials are unaware of what to expect. But he does think there’s a stigma that goes with the job, and that comes directly from fans’ interactions with officials.
“The reality is that very few people know the need for officials,” Norton said. “Part of that is us and not promoting ourselves, and part of that is on the GHSA for not helping us to promote the fact that there’s a need for officials around the state.”
Lyndon Huckaby shares Norton’s point of view. Huckaby is the lead official for the Rome baseball, softball, volleyball and swimming associations and is convinced the action of fans is the main culprit, especially in the last decade.
“We have had some new guys that don’t even make it through the first year,” Huckaby said. “Some of them don’t even make it through two weeks, because they start to take it personal. They don’t want to be hollered at.”
Officiating however can be a fulfilling endeavor for those who want to continue a career in the sport they love. Haase officiated basketball for 10 years because of a desire to maintain connections to the sport.
“For everyone it’s different,” he said. “For some it’s so they can stay close to the game they love. Maybe they love that sport and they want to stay close to it. I loved the game of basketball, and the only way I could stay close to it was to officiate it. I enjoyed it.”
The problem isn’t limited to youth and rec sports. High school sports feel the effects of the lack of officials as well.
The following is an excerpt from a recent Georgia High School Association Newsletter by Karissa Niehoff, Executive Director of National Federation of High Schools and Robin Hines, Executive Director of GHSA:
“According to a recent survey by the National Association of Sports Officials, more than 75 percent of all high school officials say adult behavior is the primary reason they quit. And 80 percent of all young officials hang up their stripes after just two years of whistle blowing. Why? They don’t need your abuse.”
Plus, there’s a ripple effect. There are more officials over 60 than under 30 in many areas. And as older, experienced officials retire, there aren’t enough younger ones to replace them. If there are no officials, there are no games. The shortage of licensed high school officials is severe enough in some areas that athletic events are being postponed or canceled – especially at the freshman and junior varsity levels.
Research confirms that participation in high school sports and activities instills a sense of pride in school and community, teaches lifelong lessons like the value of teamwork and self- discipline and facilitates the physical and emotional development of those who participate. So, if the games go away because there aren’t enough men and women to officiate them, the loss will be infinitely greater than just an ‘L’ on the scoreboard. It will be putting a dent in your community’s future.”
Haase said fans have the ability to make life easier for officials on the court or on the field, and it’s a simple rule to follow.
“Treat officials like human beings,” Haase said. “I don’t know any official that comes to officiate any game that says they’re going to do a bad job today.”
Haase also recognized it’s easy to get caught up in the moment when someone’s loved one is involved in the sport.
“Most people have relatives in the game,” Haase said. “They’ve got sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, nieces and nephews, and they’re there to cheer them on, and that’s great. But there comes a point where you’ve got to keep things in perspective, and some folks have a hard time keeping things in perspective. The kids want to win, the coaches want to win, and the parents want to win, and when they don’t, they’re unhappy.”