By Ken Reed
Over-the-top “adults” — parents and coaches — are driving game officials/referees to quit at unprecedented rates at the youth and high school levels due to the verbal and physical abuse they are increasingly receiving from parents and coaches.
As a result, many states are now having trouble finding enough qualified officials to call the games that young children and teens play. High school athletics/activities associations around the country are fearful that the referee shortage may peak during the upcoming basketball seasons for girls and boys. If trends don’t reverse, numerous basketball games may be cancelled this year.
Basketball is not alone. Virtually, every state in the country has seen a decline in the number of sports officials — for all sports — over the last decade. Approximately 50,000 officials have left the high school ranks nationally since the 2018-19 school year, according to research conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
The problem is worsened by the fact there are a growing number of new schools across the country, meaning more games needing to be officiated.
High school and youth sports officials usually get a relatively small stipend for their services but when travel and equipment expenses are factored in, it’s not unusual for their take home pay to be below minimum wage.
We are rapidly reaching the crisis stage in prep and youth sports, where fewer and fewer people are willing to take on the job of officiating games.
More than 70 percent of new referees, in all sports, quit the job within three years, according to the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO). The chief cause? Pervasive abuse from parents and coaches who have completely lost perspective.
Youth sports programs have historically turned to teenagers to officiate and umpire games involving 8-12-year-olds, but teens willing to be sports officials are harder to find due to the abuse they too often receive from parents and coaches. The decline in youth sports officials negatively impacts high school sports, which count on youth leagues to develop future high school referees.
Either respect for sports officials begins to go up or the number of games our high school and youth sports athletes get to play will go down.
Eliminating games will be the only solution if this trend isn’t reversed.
“And without us it’s just recess,” said Barry Mano, president of NASO.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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