Whistle On The Play: Officials cry foul

Photo by Jess Gonzalez, Clovis Roundup

By Jess Gonzalez

January 18, 2024

Part 2; Doing with less officials

As reported in the first part of this story (Clovis Roundup January 4, 2024), due to a growing decrease of officials, associations that supply officials to officiate youth and scholastic sports are having a difficult time providing sufficient officials to cover games in different sports played in area schools.

In attempting to cope with the shortage as best as possible, school leagues, officials’ association, and schools are having to be creative and resourceful to have games officiated.

When an association lacks officials to cover a game on a particular date, they immediately alert the school. The school then has the option of moving their game to another day.

However, some schools are hesitant to move game dates mostly due to conflicts with their schedule of other activities. When schools are opposed to moving the game day, games are cancelled.

Creativeness has been implemented in various ways. High school football games, traditionally played on Friday nights, are now also played Thursdays and Saturdays.

Resourcefulness has been having games officiated by crews of four instead of five officials. But, with less eyes looking at the 22 players, infractions are missed. Needless to say, no one likes that.

Some high school varsity basketball games previously officiated by three officials may now be officiated by a two-man crew.

At the lower levels of play there have been reports of games being postponed or cancelled at the last minute due to the lack of officials. Those are some of the adjustments being made to make do with less officials.

Again, why is this happening?

“Officials get fed up will all the abuse they go through. Many officials don’t comeback after officiating for a year or two,” says Mark Wiens, a long time official.

“Consequently, most veteran officials are in their 50s and 60s. The younger ones are in their 20s and 30s. Officials in their 40s just aren’t found much because they have quit officiating.”

Alarmed by the seriousness of the situation, Bob Kayajanian, the elder stateman of sports officials in Central California, states “Officiating is not the problem—parents are the problem. They’re why we’re not getting more officials. It’s a big concern.”

Like other officials we contacted for this report, Bob feels the aggressive attitude of parents toward officials—in all sports—is the reason the number of officials is rapidly decreasing.

Seated at a round table, other veteran officials also expressed their opinions on the subject. “Parents feel that paying their ticket to a game entitles them to say what they want,” Mark adds.

“Nobody wants to go three hours to do a game, getting yelled at, having their integrity questioned, and then get followed out to their car. At the lower levels of play it’s even worse!”

John Raymond notes “Some parents are what we call ‘helicopter’ parents—they follow officials from one part of the field to the other—cussing and harassing.”

To a large extent, the problem appears to be that parents don’t know or don’t understand the rules. “They don’t understand that what they see on TV–the NFL and the NBA–have rules that don’t apply to high school games.

There are three separate sets of rules: high school, college, and professional league rules,” informs Marvin Johnston, another veteran official.

John points out “They continually tell us we’re the reason they lost the game. They don’t see we don’t show favoritism.” The problems present during a game are often taken elsewhere by some parents. “I’ve been confronted while out at a store by parents wanting to argue with me.”

According to John, at times, parents even see things that don’t happen. “Once a parent confronted me very angry and told me I had thrown his kid off the (wrestling) mat. I had not touched him!”

Yet, while parents can make life difficult for officials, some athletes realize their parents are not acting properly when they go see them play.

“I have had kids apologize to me for their parent’s behavior after a match. They feel embarrassed by what their parents say and do.”

Why do parents act in such manner

So why do parents act in such manner, after all it’s just a game their child is playing? “Many parents think that by getting on the officials they’re helping their kid get a college scholarship,” informs Bob.

“They don’t realize that college scouts don’t come looking for athletes when they’re freshmen. Colleges look for players at big tournaments, not local games.”

Additionally, he remarks “The new portal transfer rule has changed everything around. First thing coaches do every morning is check the transfer portal to see who is available.”

Thus, there is less looking at high school athletes than before—especially nonhigh school seniors. The officials also suggest some parents get so involved in their child’s sports participation because they may be living vicariously through their child their participation in sports.

The role of coaches

Coaches, in general, know their sport and its rules better than people watching the game. Yet, officials report some coaches, particularly at the lower levels of play, aren’t well versed in the rules.

That is a reason they get abusive in the heat of a game. They repeatedly question calls, non-calls , and the integrity of the officials in a manner far from pleasant.

And, again, many of them base their arguments on what they see on TV—NFL and NBA games. An example is the traveling violation in basketball. In the NBA it is hardly ever called even when a player takes three or more steps before shooting. In high school it is called regularly.

Unfortunately, at times when coaches yell at officials, the parents and other fans get riled up and go after the officials. As a way of protecting each other, officials often warn each other about the abusiveness of certain coaches before they officiate games involving the teams of those coaches.