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


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