Referee numbers in decline

High school official Donald Gilmore hears an earful from McCracken County head coach Scott Sivils but keeps his eyes focused on Angela Gierhart and the play at hand earlier this year.

With the decrease of available referees in our region, The Laker Review staff believes coaches, players and even fans need to recognize how valuable referees are and reevaluate how they treat them.

According to CCHS Athletic Director Greg Butler, there is an assigning secretary who assigns officials to referee games and tournaments for every sport in every region.

Ben Crenshaw, the assigning secretary for our region’s softball games, said he has a shortage of officials to officiate softball.

“I am about 8-10 short of what I need,” Crenshaw said.

Crenshaw said that out of the few officials he does have, few are under the age of 40. In fact, half of his officials are 50 and older. 

Brett Miles, the assigning secretary for the basketball games in our region, has an explanation as to why new officials are hard to come by. 

“The new officials start out but do not last,” Miles said. “Most do not like the criticism or being yelled at.”

According to KHSAA.org, “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.”

“I have seen coaches mistreat officials. I have seen players mistreat officials. The majority of treatment, though, comes from fans,” Butler said.

Butler explained what mistreatment can look like from each group. 

Coaches typically mistreat officials by arguing with calls and being too demonstrative with their arguments.

Fans mistreat officials by making inappropriate motions, standing up, walking down to playing surfaces and making personal comments.

“It’s the personal comments that make a difference,” Butler said.

Butler added that he has even seen mistreatment go as far as fans harassing and threatening the children and spouses of officials who had attended games to watch their family member. Butler deemed this behavior inappropriate.

Crenshaw suggested that the head coach calmly ask questions of the officials and discuss disagreements in a civil manner while everyone else should positively cheer their players. 

“Support and be passionate about your team,” Miles said. “Encourage sportsmanship. Fans forget that they see one side only, and officials must keep a level playing field and level head at all times. You can disagree without being obnoxious and embarrassing.”

“No one wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I wanna get yelled at today,’” Butler said. “Officials want to participate in a game that they once enjoyed. That’s the main reason that they do it. So if they get to a point where they’re not enjoying it, and it’s not worth the little bit of money that they make, they won’t do it. There’s a limited number of people who want to do it.”

Butler wants everyone to understand that if the officials are not there, there is no game. Everyone involved deserves to be treated in a manner that shows appreciation for the time, effort and sacrifices made by those involved to be there doing what they’re doing.

“Without the coach, there is not a team,” Butler said. “Without the player or the teammate, there is no team. Without the official who has given up nights and weekends for not a whole lot of pay to be out there working with someone else’s kids, there is no game. Understand, if that official isn’t there, there may not be a replacement, and if there aren’t replacements, there aren’t any games.”

Butler also wants everyone to understand high school games are just that – games. 

“The kids are going to have more enjoyment from the game if the fans are supportive, if the coach is supportive,” Butler said. “The players are doing the best that they can; coaches are doing the best that they can; the officials are doing the best that they can. Mistakes happen, not on purpose. It’s just part of life.”

“We make mistakes, just like anyone,” Crenshaw said. “Not one umpire I have is biased.”

Miles agreed with Butler and Crenshaw.

“Remember, referees are humans who make mistakes; we are not perfect and never will be,” he said. “The last guy who was perfect, they took him outside the city and killed him on a cross. We are passionate about what we do, but it is a hobby, and we also have wives, husbands and kids. When people are yelling at the officials, that is someone’s spouse, father or mother,  and they may be there watching and listening as well.”

KHSAA.org says, “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 greater than just an ‘L’ on the scoreboard. It will be putting a dent in your community’s future,” according to KHSAA.org