ZUKE: High school referees continue to take heat from unruly fans, parents

It is barely a month into the high school winter sports season, and there is one recurring theme I find to be increasingly bothersome.

It has nothing to do with the players in the game, but rather the parents in the stands.

Already this season I’ve heard chants of, “You refs suck,” and a parent yelling, “C’mon, we haven’t gotten (expletive) for calls.”

The problem isn’t just limited to this season. I have participated in hundreds of athletic events in my life and have watched or covered just as many. I have witnessed plenty of instances where all I could do is shake my head.

Since when do the parents have more to gain from winning than the actual players in the game? Look, I understand, there are going to be questionable calls by referees — especially at the high school level — but isn’t the main goal of youth sports to provide life lessons for kids as they develop into young adults?

What “values” do they take away from competition if they see parents in the stands shouting at an official?

Trust me, the refs don’t have anything extra invested in the game other than to call it fair. They referee because they love the game, as hard as that might be for them at times. And it can be tough. Officials even have come up to me during games while I was taking photos on the sideline to say things such as, “Boy, can’t please anyone tonight, eh?”

Not surprisingly, the Michigan High School Athletic Association is facing several concerning trends regarding its officials, including a high turnover rate and the increasing average age of referees. In a Dec. 10 MLive article, MHSAA communications director John Johnson said the average age of an official is 52 years old and is getting older.

The MHSAA is having trouble recruiting younger officials, the article reads. I’m not surprised. Why would a young adult want to referee if he or she is ridiculed for calls during a game?

Younger officials need time to develop. We can’t expect them to get every call correct, and they won’t, but I can guarantee you this – 99.9 percent of the time, they will be in a better position to make a call than you would be sitting in the stands.

But the main reason why parents should not scream at officials is not because the effects it has on the officials, but rather the effect it has on the players.

I know if I was playing in a game and I looked up to see my parents yelling about a call, I would be downright embarrassed.

A lot of times, a player will not say anything to his or her parents if he or she feels uncomfortable with the way one or both parents act during a game. But believe me, that does not mean they are not saying anything about it to their teammates or others.

Is this column intended to make you not get upset at officials’ calls anymore? No. Do I expect you to refrain from the occasional groan or gripe at a game? Absolutely not.

All I am asking is to keep it under control and be mindful of how your actions reflect on your child and community. If you’re at a game and see a fan go over the top, don’t be hesitant to say something.

Let the coaches be the ones to talk with the referees.

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Posted by Ryan Zuke

Ryan is the sports editor for the Big Rapids Pioneer, covering local prep sports and Ferris State athletics. He can be contacted at (231) 592-8363 or rzuke@pioneergroup.com.

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