The declining number of high school and youth sports referees has been a story for a few years now, and one of the reasons cited for the shortage is the abuse officials face from parents during games. It’s gotten to the point where an Oklahoma youth soccer referee named Brian Barlow has started offering $100 to anyone who captures parental violence toward a youth sports official on video, which he then posts on a Facebook page called “Offside.” More than 6,000 people have responded, according to a note posted on the page.
Now the Ohio High School Athletic Association is taking its plea directly to the parents themselves with a letter headlined “Dear Mom and Dad: Cool It.”
“If you are the mother or father of a high school athlete here in Ohio, this message is primarily for you,” reads the letter, which was posted Monday on the OHSAA website.
"When you attend an athletic event that involves your son or daughter, cheer to your heart’s content, enjoy the camaraderie that high school sports offer and have fun. But when it comes to verbally [criticizing] game officials or coaches, cool it.
“Make no mistake about it. Your passion is admired, and your support of the hometown team is needed. But so is your self-control. Yelling, screaming and berating the officials humiliates your child, annoys those sitting around you, embarrasses your child’s school and is the primary reason Ohio has an alarming shortage of high school officials.”
The letter cites a study by the National Association of Sports Officials that says more than 75 percent of all high school officials claim “adult behavior” as the primary reason they hung up their stripes. The study also found that 80 percent of all young officials quit after just two years, making it harder to replace older officials after they retire and leading to a rise in postponements and cancellations, especially at the freshman and junior varsity levels.
According to an Ohio University study, the state of Nevada had 812 registered referees in 2016, down from 1,300 just a year earlier. Oregon saw a 12 percent decrease in registered officials over a three-year period. Tennessee lost 200 referees from 2015 to 2016. There are other reasons besides the negative work environment, obviously: The Ohio University study also pinpointed low pay and little opportunity to advance from the high school level to college. But “poor behavior from spectators” was cited as the No. 1 reason officials left the field.
In Ohio, OHSAA tracking found that there were 4,248 baseball umpires in the 2010-2011 school year. That number had declined by nearly 18 percent to 3,495 for the 2017-18 school year. Football officials declined by roughly 11 percent. Soccer referees were down by 5.5 percent. Meanwhile, the number of high school athletes in Ohio increased from 328,430 in 2010-2011 to 347,567 in 2017-18.
“If you look at the trends statewide, sport participating is steady or increasing,” Rob Rude, a longtime Ohio referee and assignor of referees, told the Clermont Sun last year. “The number of officials is decreasing. The future doesn’t look good.”
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