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CRISIS INTERVENTION | News, Sports, Jobs – Fort Dodge Messenger

by Arifa Rana

Apr 14, 2022
—Messenger photo by Britt Kudla: A referee takes a moment to collect his thoughts before a high school football game last fall.
A referee in Fort Madison was knocked unconscious by an angry fan at the community’s middle school during a 3-on-3 basketball tournament last Saturday.
A softball umpire for a 12-and-under youth event was punched in the face by an unruly parent in Mississippi.
Another ump was attacked by a coach during a 10U baseball game at The Colony Five Star Complex north of Dallas in a now-viral video making the rounds on social media.
Not verbal altercations or heckling from the stands. Assaults leading to arrests.
I’m trying not to fall into a prisoner-of-the-moment trap here, knowing full well that separate incidents happening on the same weekend is more coincidence than a pattern. Thankfully, this isn’t a common occurrence.
So far.
We are collectively trending in a dangerous direction as a sports society. Youth and high school officials are leaving en masse, and it isn’t just over money. Refs and umps are done dealing with unrealistic coaches and parents going wild.
The situation is so dire that the National Federation of State High School Associations is hosting a three-day event — an emergency meeting of sorts — in Indianapolis this week to address the shortage. The NFHS estimates approximately 50,000 people nation-wide have left their officiating posts since 2018-19.
The problem has already reached a tipping point in certain areas, where games have been canceled or spread out to try and fill sudden gaps in scheduling. Older refs and umps have had it and are walking away. Younger ones don’t see the practical value of being berated or ridiculed as they learn the ropes.
It’s all so hard to fathom, yet at the same time, really not surprising that we’re in this mess. I remember being at a weekend tournament for my son’s youth baseball team a few years ago, and two high school kids were working behind the plate and in the field. I approached them at the end of a long day to thank them for their efforts, knowing the take-home pay didn’t amount to much when all was said and done.
As the words left my mouth, I could tell by their body language that they were going to be on the defensive. I was able to explain myself to put their minds at ease, but I could tell they’d been cornered like that before for all the wrong reasons.
I also saw a mother from a southern Iowa community go completely off the rails at a youth softball tournament last year, screaming obscenities at both an umpire and her team’s coach in an awkward moment at the center of the entire complex. She didn’t even have the restraint to express her concerns privately. Even worse, the implosion was right in front of her daughter, who couldn’t have been more than 11 or 12 years old.
The mom’s final words — sparing the obscenities — were, “let’s go. You’re never playing for this team again.”
What are we teaching our children? What kind of example are we setting? This should all go without saying of course, but apparently respectful, civil behavior can no longer be assumed.
Families commit thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of time to youth sports every year. However, that doesn’t give a person a free pass to cross the line when it comes to the treatment of officials. Verbal abuse should never be allowed. Physical abuse should lead to both criminal prosecution and penalties from teams and leagues that will set a precedence of zero tolerance.
There is no future for high school, middle school, travel or even recreational ball without people who are willing to set aside their time and resources to work these games. Mistakes will be made. Wrong calls happen. There will be frustrating moments.
Deal with it.
A random 12U game in the middle of April isn’t Game 7 of the World Series. An AAU basketball contest isn’t the NBA Finals. A soccer match full of scrambling kids isn’t the World Cup.
Sadly and ironically, this kind of behavior actually makes the situation worse for all — not better, which people claim they’re expecting. Every tirade pushes an ump or a ref closer to the door, with no Plan B around the corner. So if you want to see scorched earth, keep yelling. Pretty soon, the “I could do it better” grumbling from the stands will have to take on a literal interpretation.
The truth? There are consequences. Better restraint is long overdue.
Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. Contact him via email sports@messengernews.net, or on Twitter @ByEricPratt
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