Let’s make it official

By: 
Sonja Karp

I

t’s been coming for a few years now. Officials have taken more and more abuse from fans over the years, and the old guard who grew thick skin and selective hearing due to experience are starting to hang up their whistles.

Unfortunately, the climate at sporting events has become hostile enough that fewer young people are putting on the stripes to officiate youth sports.

Just last week, the Dogie football team experienced the impact of this critical issue. The game scheduled for last Friday in Sundance had to be moved to Thursday because they couldn’t staff officials for the Friday night game.

I’m afraid that we may be seeing more of this situation play itself out in many different high school, middle school and club sports throughout the year. 

It’s amazing how many “experts” on any given sport are sitting up in the stands and who feel not only free to, but entitled to, express their opinion regarding calls, or the lack thereof, by referees.

And yes, I have been that “expert.” I’ve offered my critique from the stands and from the sidelines as a coach. As a coach, I would sometimes do it strategically in order to provide motivation for my team or if I needed to create a momentum shifter. 

As a parent, it came from my mama-bear emotions because I was totally invested in my child’s game. 

As a fan, my need to loudly vocalize my view on officiating calls admittedly decreased as I didn’t have as much of a dog in the hunt. And then I started photographing the games, which really shut me up.

I must say that I began to enjoy each sport I shot so much more when I was no longer focusing so much energy on the people wearing the whistle and started focusing more on the players.

Obviously, I still disagree with a call or two, because who doesn’t? But I also try really hard to remember that officials are just people like me. I mean really like me as I ref volleyball. I know that when I am up on the stand, I am doing my best to do a good job for the teams on the court. Do I make mistakes? Of course I do, but they are never intentional.

I have also been asked multiple times to officiate basketball, but my answer has always been no, because hoops refs wear big, red bullseyes on their chest the second they step on the court. Volleyball fans are pretty mellow and mostly there to cheer on their team, but basketball fans are vicious. There’s not enough money
to get me to invite that kind of abuse.

The problem is that I’m not the only one who feels that way about donning the stripes and hanging a whistle around my neck.

I know that one of the biggest challenges that athletic directors face is lining up officials for high school and middle school sporting events. Unfortunately, that puts the future of youth sports in jeopardy. 

If there are no officials, there will be no games.

In order to avoid this unthinkable eventuality, we all need to get a check on our behavior toward officials at youth sporting events. And maybe, if we feel passionate, we go ahead and take on the job ourselves. 

All I know for sure is that it would be a shame for kids to lose out on the opportunity to participate in the sports they love because people have been driven out of the reffing profession.

Let’s give them a break and focus on the game so that the kids can play.

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