There is always talk about problems surrounding youth and high school sports.
Words like funding, equipment, field space, and coaching are thrown around regularly when it comes to local sports.
But there is one phrase seldom mentioned that is the most crucial – officials or rather, the lack of officials.
The Dublin vs. Kimball high school football game on Sept. 16 was postponed because there were no officials available to call the game.
The game was moved to the following Monday, meaning the Gaels were forced to play games on Monday night, then Friday again.
Initially I was surprised by the events, but as I thought about it there was less surprise and more of, I knew this was coming.
The Sacramento area has had some games postponed this year, and the local Contra Costa Football Officials Association (CCFOA) has been sending crews to other areas – including Sacramento – to help make sure games get staffed.
If the CCFOA has extra crews, how did the Dublin game not get covered?
“It was an anomaly,” said CCFOA Assigning Secretary Dave Cutaia. “A lot of our teams had home games. We had not had to move a game this year.”
Now that every league will be in league play next week, there should be plenty of crews locally, but the lack of officials is something plaguing all associations.
“No one has enough officials,” explained Cutaia, a long-time official who officiated Pac 12 games for over 25 years as well. “It’s a trend everywhere. We have recruited more, but are still four or five down.”
Then there is one underlying reason very few want to be an official – harassment by the fans.
It is getting discussed more and more, but the discussion does nothing to stop the problem.
No sports official enjoys harassment and, to a person, they understand fans are going to voice their displeasure, but yelling insults at officials is getting worse and more intense every year.
“It’s one of our biggest issues why we can’t get people out to officiate,” said Cutaia of harassment. “It’s happening all over the nation.”
One of the reasons I retired from announcing football and basketball games locally is I was growing more impatient listening to the garbage coming from the parents’ mouths at local games.
I was getting to the point where I wanted to get involved and tell the parents to shut up.
I think the officials expect to hear stuff from the student bodies, with the usual chants of “ref you suck,” being part of the regular vernacular. School administration teams are doing a decent job of controlling their respective student bodies, but when – not if – the parent groups get involved, it gets way out of control.
“What these (parents) don’t understand is that if you want to yell at officials, then pay the money it takes to attend a 49ers game and yell all you want,” said Cutaia. “But these are high school football games.”
I have seen numerous ugly experiences through the years. I spent 26 years standing on the sidelines at local high school football games, shocked at some of the stuff I heard coming from the stands. Basketball is even worse because of how the fans are right on top of the court.
Also, save for the 1972 Olympic basketball gold medal game, I have never seen a referee determine the outcome of a sporting event.
It is not just football and basketball, as any sport with officials run the risk of boorish behavior. Football and basketball are the two that bring in the largest number of spectators so those two are put in in the spotlight.
In those 26 years, I got to know many officials well, including Cutaia. I can say with total confidence that I never met one official that was intentionally making bad calls.
Sounds like an easy statement to make but you will have a hard time believing it if you listen to the fans whine and complain.
It has also turned into a situation where we take it for granted that officials will show up and a game will take place.
We might be moving to a place where it is no longer a given.
I started asking parents with athletes on my son’s lacrosse team years ago, “How many qualified lacrosse officials do you think there are in Northern California? Getting two officials for any game is a blessing and a lot better than not playing a game.”
The worst part, a lot of the guilty don’t realize they are the problem, which makes it hard to correct their behavior.
What happens next is the act of insulting officials often escalates to mob mentality, prompting other spectators to join in the party.
It can’t be a bad thing is everyone is doing it. Whatever helps you sleep at night.
What would be nice to see is other parents call out the rotten ones. There is nothing as strong as peer pressure when it comes to controlling one’s behavior. Make these people understand how they are being jerks.
I understand people are reluctant to get involved and, in many cases, don’t blame you for not getting involved. Some of these morons appear truly psychotic and confronting them could be a daunting and dangerous task.
This behavior is not only causing an immediate impact of the pool of officials, but also on building a bank of future officials.
“We try to recruit 18-year-old kids to officiate youth games,” said Cutaia. “But they get out there at youth sports events and get yelled at there. Who wants to referee in those kinds of conditions.”
Cutaia is once again spot on – parental behavior at youth sporting events is abhorrent.
I remember when at one of my daughter’s soccer games when she was 5 and I had to step between two mothers and stop a fight. Two mothers! That was 20 years ago, and the behavior has worsened.
In the last 10 years, among the things I have witnessed is a parent at a middle school basketball game walk on to the court to confront an official.
It seems like these upset parents feel that the official is making it personal and trying to wrong their child’s performance. What else could provoke such behavior?
The officials are beginning to fight back.
“We’ve told our guys and the schools to back us up,” explained Cutaia. “We’re not going to take it anymore. People will be asked to leave the game.”
Lost in the continual disruption is how this conduct affects the athletes.
Every time a parent yells at an official, they embarrass their kids. They may smile and laugh about it initially, but inside they suffer.
Do it enough times and your child becomes the kid of “that parent.” You’re not helping, you’re hurting.
I have seen it many times. When I hear an idiot insulting a referee, I always focus on the son/daughter and watch their reaction.
Almost every time it is a not a good thing as you can tell it embarrasses them and will continue to have a negative effect.
A byproduct of the parents gone wild is that many times, their athlete turns in to that type of person as well.
I have seen some athletes that are some of the calmest, well-mannered players, but then I have also seen some that are a technical or ejection waiting to happen.
I have a couple favors to ask if you will indulge me. First, sit down and think seriously if you are one of those people that go out of the way to criticize officials. Ask your spouse, and perhaps some close friends that you trust to be honest.
Second, sit down and talk with your athlete. Ask them if they hear parents yelling from the stands and how it makes them feel. Ask them if you are behaving badly at games.
I would think getting a reality lesson from your son/daughter would turn the lights on as to your conduct.
I have been fortunate in that seeing all this horrible behavior over the years, I was a better sports parent because I didn’t want to be “that guy,” at my kids’ athletic contests.
This an easy fix if you think about it. If we all take some time to reflect on our conduct, then go out and not act like a pompous jerk, you might enjoy yourself at a game.
It’s all about holding yourself accountable.
It beats not having a game because there are no officials.
on Sep 28, 2022 at 4:58 pm
on Sep 28, 2022 at 4:58 pm
I would like to comment from an officials point of view...
I had a thought back in 2018, I would become a certified USTA umpire, as an activity in retirement. It would be fun and could make a little cash. I only worked one USTA sanctioned tournament for the 2018 year. The anguish and abuse, I was subjected by the yelling parents/coaches with a few juniors thrown in during my first official USTA tournament, was not worth the money they paid me. To this day, I have not worked another USTA tournament, as a certified umpire.
Of course thinking back, I wish that my first experience working an official USTA event, was a positive one. Those incidents with the parents, coaches and players, if they weren't behaving badly, I may have worked more tennis tournaments.
Just remember, it is harder than you think to be on the field or court officiating/umpiring. It is pretty easy sitting in the stands, just being a well behaved fan.
on Sep 29, 2022 at 9:28 am
on Sep 29, 2022 at 9:28 am
Dennis, thank you for this piece. I have seen and known this was an issue for a LONG time. Unfortunately, I fear the adults who are at issue won't be the ones to read this article...or if they do, have the self-awareness to know they are the problem. Is there any way to get something included in the preamble for the games that makes reference to official abuse.
I agree with previous commentor, I've coached sports thru out for my son and considered refing but reconsidered it as I wouldn't get paid enough to tolerate the abuse and don't need to fear walking back to my car after a game. Frankly, I'd probably be fired because if fans got too toxic I'd just call the game and say "If we can't play nicely, we won't play at all"...game over.