Whistle On The Play – officials cry foul – Part 3

(Photo from Envato Elements)

By Jess Gonzalez,

January 29, 2024 – In our first two parts of this report, we focused on the harassment of officials by parents, fans, and coaches.

In this final part of our report, we focus on the officials and why they become officials, even if though they are subjected to abuse, and what they can do to protect themselves against the said abuse.

In-game recourse for officials

Depending on the sport and the proximity of the playing field to the fans, officials do have some game control options.

In high school football when players become abusive, officials inform the coach the player is being removed from the game.

If it is the coach, or coaches who get the boot, the home team’s athletic director is tasked with the removal.

However, if kicking out a coach or players does not take care of the problem, officials have the option of stopping the game.

In youth football playing fields are usually in open areas where fans stand by the field to see the game.

In such proximity officials are fair game for verbal abuse by parents and fans—as well as coaches.

Again, coaches must remove players when they get thrown out for being verbally abusive—players 5 to 14 years of age!

If it is a coach, or coaches who engage in un-sportsman like behavior, team presidents or league reps can boot them out.   Games can also be stopped.

The proximity of the to the fans makes basketball difficult to officiate

Basketball is one of the toughest sports to officiate as far as fan abuse is concerned.

With the playing court being next to the stands, parents and fans tend to get abusive from the start of a game.

And, with team benches and coaches being by the court, coaches also tend to berate and go after officials about anything happening on the court.

They complain about calls and non-calls—even if the action is far away from them. Somehow, they seem to see the game better than the officials who are up close to the action.

They also seem not to know officials have specific coverage areas—not the entire court. Similar situations happen on baseball and softball fields.

Here too, school administrators are present to supervise games in case officials need assistance to remove a coach or fans from the game venue. However, that system doesn’t always work.

At times, when problems arise, supervising administrators are nowhere to be found.

At others, they don’t support officials against rowdy fans—mostly because they don’t know the officials, but they do know the fans.

In attempting to help their officials, association supervisors advise them to take control of their games from the start in order for games not to get out of control.

That means blowing their whistle loud and often. If players are allowed to get away with fouls, violations, and rough play early in the game, things will get worse later. Yet, you can’t call what you don’t see.

Coaches are supposed to be handled the same way. “Keep them in place from the start of the game,” officials are told.

In short, officials are supposed to block-out the often game-long rantings of coaches, parents, and fans. That is easier said than done.

What does it take to be an official?

So, what makes a perfectly sane person become a sport official and expose him or herself to abuse by coaches, parents, and fans?

For most officials it is their love of sports and wanting to help the young athletes learn to play their game.

“I was always interested in sports, so I took college courses on how to become an official; not just the rules and mechanics, but also having the right frame of mind—

learning how to talk with coaches and players; the different aspects needed to become a good official,” is how Mark Wiens explains how he arrived at putting on the official’s uniform.

Unfortunately, that route is nowhere to be found in Central California. “No high schools, no junior colleges, no universities in our area have classes on how to become a sports official,” informs Bob Kayajanian.

“There’s also no mentorship programs to help anyone wanting to become an official,” he adds. “And neither coaches nor teachers instruct students on how to officiate like they used to do it in the past.”

Yet, most officials are out on the playing fields for one reason. “Many parents and fans don’t realize working with kids is 99% of the reason why we’re out there,” says Marvin Johnson.

“We want them to play the game and do it within the rules.”

The pay of officials

Officials do get paid for their work. But even that incentive is not enough for associations to keep experienced officials and consistently recruit new ones.

Part of the reason may be because officials are paid very little. Sports officials in Central Section are the worst paid in California.

Depending on the level of play, officials get paid between $70 and $90 per game in all sports.

Gas money to travel to games is rarely provided. That’s why, considering all that is involved, it’s just not worth it to some officials to expose themselves to abuse for so little money.

Why aren’t officials paid the same as officials in other parts of the state? “It’s our fault,” says Jeff Vivian.

“We need to organize ourselves to try and get better pay. When we’re able to do that, we will be compensated like officials in other sections. It’s needed.”

Oh, and don’t let an official get hurt because he will mostly be responsible for his medical bills.

Are all officials “good officials?”

While this report has mainly focused on the abuse of officials, it cannot be said that officials are always right in their calls and decisions.

This is especially now that the lack of officials is pushing new officials to work games when they may not be ready to officiate in proper manner.

“Many officials are thrown out on the field because they’re needed even though they’re not ready to officiate,” states John Raymond.

“They’re being set-up for failure.” And though prior to their sport season they take a written rules test, and an on-the-field test, not all officials function at the same competence level.

Thus, some of the complaints by coaches, parents, and fans may be totally justified at times.   However, complaining should not be taken to extremes.

Know sports? Put on the uniform

So, it is not easy being an official. But, if you like sports and like being “in the game,” maybe you have what it takes to become a good official.

You’ll never know till you try. With the urgent need for officials, it’s a good time to try it. Yes, there are obstacles, but that’s life!