The Bull Penn: Referees have feelings too

Feb. 14, 2002, midnight | By Ben Penn | 22 years, 4 months ago

Abuse from fans and athletes is creating a shortage of sports officials

"Coaches make mistakes, and players make mistakes," reasons Brad Roos, an NCAA Division I college basketball referee. "It's only natural that officials are going to make mistakes too."

However, anyone who attends a sporting event will find that athletes, coaches, parents and fans alike obviously cannot tolerate the human error inherent in sports officials. We think it's not natural. Our behavior at the games makes it clear that we do not perceive officials as human beings at all, but rather as robots that should be programmed to make the correct call 100 percent of the time.

If we could accept that officials make mistakes, or sometimes only what we perceive as mistakes, then Roos would not have suffered a concussion ten years ago. Roos' message apparently didn't make sense to a rec-league basketball player who took it upon himself to punch Roos in the face, knocking him unconscious, simply because he disagreed with one of Roos' calls.

Because we have failed to attach any human qualities to referees, many people cannot even begin to feel for the zebras. Well, to all non-officials who refuse to care about this issue, I have some news that might hit home. According to a study conducted by the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), 90 percent of U.S. high school organizations suffer from a shortage of sports officials. And here's the interesting part: the organizations cite abuse from fans and poor sportsmanship from athletes and coaches as the top two reasons for the scarcity.

The Washington, D.C., area provides a perfect example. According to Joseph Marosy, the supervisor of basketball officials in the metropolitan area and a retired Blair P.E. teacher, only 20 new basketball officials are recruited every year in the D.C. area, a number that five years ago ranged from 50 to 60 each year.

Marosy blames the cruelty directed towards referees for the drought. "In some cases, people buy a ticket and feel they have a right to do whatever they want," says Marosy. "Newly recruited officials do not want to take the abuse that they see during contests." It's probably no coincidence that the National Alliance of Youth Sports reports that in 2001 the number of games involving some form of physical or verbal abuse from parents or participants had increased by 300 percent from only five years earlier.

Marosy, who has supervised officials for 22 years, reaches a frightening conclusion. Since young potential referees would rather not deal with the abuse and presiding officials are not getting any younger, the sports officiating community is gradually going extinct.

Blair's girls' soccer and boys' lacrosse coach Bob Gibb, who has reffed soccer games since he was in college, sees first-hand proof that the ref shortage is not limited to basketball. "I've coached soccer in the county for 13 years, and there aren't a whole lot of new faces," he says. "The guys who do it love it. But the scary thing is that your typical referee is well over 40, and these guys aren't going to go on forever."

Blair's security team leader Edward Reddick is a referee who has been toughing it out for 25 years. Reddick, who has officiated basketball games from the college level all the way down to children's leagues, says he doesn't let the abuse bother him, but he still notices it. "I see kids being more confrontational. You get your primadonnas who think that everything they do is correct," he grumbles.

In fact, one of those primadonnas once threatened Reddick in a Montgomery County high school game a few years ago. "A kid said he was going to kick my butt, and I said, ‘Well, you will have to do it after the game because you're not here any longer,'" Reddick recounts with pride.

Luckily, the athlete did not follow up on Reddick's offer. But what about the next time? Already employed in a profession in which the only way to get noticed is by making mistakes, these poor referees are reduced to taking preventative measures.

NASO's public relations manager, Bob Still, who also officiates college baseball and football, believes referees must always be prepared for the worst. "We, as officials, need to know how to deal with these situations," he says. For instance, back in Still's younger days when he umpired Little League baseball, he would walk off the field on the side of the winning team to avoid a confrontation with a disgruntled coach, player or fan from the losing team.

Fortunately for the officiating community, Brad Roos was back on the court several weeks after his concussion. "I definitely thought about not coming back, but I love basketball, and I love to officiate," he says.

Listen to that man. Does he sound like a robot?

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Ben Penn. Ben Penn, a senior in the Communication Arts Program, is thrilled to be taking on the role of managing sports editor for Silver Chips. While holding the position of page editor last year, Ben is proud to say that he was the only person on … More »

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