This is an op-ed written by Karissa Niehoff, Executive Director of the National Federation of State High School Associations and Julian Tackett, Commissioner of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.
If you are the mother or father of a high school athlete here in Kentucky or one of the key school administrators in a member school or member school district, this message is primarily for you.
When you attend an athletic event that involves your son or daughter, or the members of your student body, 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, it’s time for everyone to cool it. “The time has come for everyone involved in the game to “pump the brakes” as it relates to conduct at games, particularly, the parents who attend,” noted NFHS Executive Director Karissa Niehoff.
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 Kentucky has an alarming shortage of high school officials.
It’s true. According to a recent survey by the National Association of Sports Officials, more than 75 percent of all high school officials say “adult behavior” is the primary reason they quit. And 80 percent of all young officials hang up their stripes after just two years of whistle blowing. Why? They don’t need your abuse.
“It is time for everyone to take a deep breath, regain control of their emotions, and remind themselves of the great purpose of high school sports, enjoyable participation by the student-athletes,” said KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett. “This is a game played by imperfect humans, coached by imperfect humans, and officiated by imperfect humans. I don’t know if it’s the higher levels’ insatiable desire for perfection through replays and the bloviating by announcers who think they know everything or the tone and tenor of general conversation in our country, but this cannot be allowed to continue in this level of sport and this level be maintained.”
Plus, there’s a ripple effect. There are more officials over 60 than under 30 in many areas. And as older, experienced officials retire, there aren’t enough younger ones to replace them. If there are no officials, there are no games. The shortage of licensed high school officials is severe enough in some areas that athletic events are being postponed or cancelled—especially at the freshman and junior varsity levels.
The shortage is likely to get worse based on recent acts by parents and school administrators. Consider a few incidents that occurred just in the last few weeks:
- The spouse of a contest official, choosing to attend the game her husband was officiating, was verbally abused by parents around her to the point that she genuinely feared for her safety. Her husband is trying to decide if it is worth it to continue officiating. And this conduct went unchecked by local school administrators.
- A school Superintendent, who has a son participating and a relative coaching, sent a threatening text to the local independent contractor who assigns games. “That crew better not be on one of our games ever again” read the text. And that same school removed a team from the floor in a non-varsity game in dissatisfaction over the officiating.
- A veteran Athletic Director cursing an official during a non-varsity game and refusing to allow the official into a dressing room to retrieve his belongings after disagreeing over the handling of a fan situation.
- A veteran school Athletic Director not only refused to handle a situation with a fan when asked to do so, but after the contest, barged into a dressing room and threatened the game officials following the ejection of a head coach after a third technical foul.
“I wish I could say that these incidents occurred in another state or in a different year. Unfortunately, not only were they here in our state but in the last few weeks as well,” said KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett. “On what planet does any adult, especially a school administrator, think this type of conduct is permissible? We will, of course, issue penalties against the school for removing a team and likely issue some form of administrative penalty against the schools that failed to exercise institutional control during their recent games, but the cause is an indication of deeper, systematic problems.
“I don’t want to indict all by the actions of a few, but offer a reminder to all involved. A Superintendent has zero authority over game assignments, thankfully, due to the Federal Court Order that has over-arching authority over our officials’ division. And certainly, our school administrators are expected, if they are to maintain membership in the KHSAA, to handle things at the playing sites in conjunction with officials’ directives. If everyone involved, especially our parents and school administrators, don’t get a handle on their own actions and emotions, as well as the environment surrounding athletic events, not only will the pool of available officiating contractors dry up, but sooner or later, and sooner I fear, those remaining contractors will choose not to accept game assignments at those schools.”
Research confirms that participation in high school sports and activities instills a sense of pride in school and community, teaches lifelong lessons like the value of teamwork and self-discipline and facilitates the physical and emotional development of those who participate. So, if the games go away because there aren’t enough men and women to officiate them, the loss will be infinitely greater than just an “L” on the scoreboard. It will be putting a dent in your community’s future.
If you would like to be a part of the solution to the shortage of high school officials, you can sign up to become a licensed official through the KHSAA.org or by showing your interest at HighSchoolOfficials.com. Otherwise, adult role models at high school athletic events here in Kentucky are always welcome.