It’s time to call ‘foul’ on out-of-control parents and spectators
I suppose it’s fashionable in today’s in-your-face world to boo sports officials and verbally challenge some of their calls.
Hey, I get it. I was a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association official in football, basketball and baseball. I had to look up some of the names I was called by unhappy parents and supporters who thought they knew the rule book better than I.
We knew that this behavior went with the territory, included in the price of admission, if you will.
But never did I have an irate parent charge onto the court or field to challenge me physically. Not that it didn’t happen, once in a blue moon, to others even in the days when I was officiating, but it was more than rare.
Today, there is a disturbing trend where spectators, especially parents, want to work out their aggression mano a mano with officials.
Such was the case earlier this month when a Lancaster County man, whose son was engaged in a wrestling match at the Panther Valley Intermediate School, was accused of slugging the referee twice.
David Coleman, 37, of Mountville, was charged with assault on a sports official, simple assault, harassment and disorderly conduct. He is free on $50,000 unsecured bail pending his scheduled hearing this week before District Judge Casimir Kosciolek of Lansford.
In the official document filed in connection with the charges, Summit Hill police officer Andrew Jones said that Coleman told him that he was concerned for his son’s well-being because of his arm’s position during the wrestling match.
Jones was informed that Coleman went to the mat and told the official that he was not in the proper position to see the problem with his son’s arm. The official ordered Coleman to basically get out of his face, and this is when the alleged punches were thrown.
The referee refused medical attention and continued his duties.
If this were an isolated incident, I would not be as concerned as I am, but according to the National Association of Sports Officials, harassment of its members has grown so much that 70 percent of new officials in all sports quit within three years.
Based on a survey the association conducted with its members and former members, the chief reason for this mass exodus was “pervasive abuse from parents and coaches.”
Several area officials whom I asked about this situation agree that the number of incidents has grown during the past decade.
“I try to filter 99 percent of it,” said one well-known PIAA basketball official.
In researching information for this article, I watched several instances of abusive parents and fans in action and was startled to find how dangerous these incidents have become.
An Oklahoma official has taken the extraordinary step of offering a $100 “reward” to anyone who provides video evidence of one of these confrontations. So far, there have been more than 1,600 submissions from people who have witnessed parents throwing punches, hurling abuse and otherwise engaging in unacceptable behavior at youth sporting events.
Brian Barlow, a youth soccer referee, has created a Facebook page whose intent is to shame unruly parents and spectators who are captured in the act of behaving badly at sporting events.
One shows a woman at a soccer game screaming profanities, then kicking a ball that slams into a teenage referee because of a penalty that was called against her son’s team.
Another shows parents at a youth basketball game charging onto the court to throw punches at one of the referees because they didn’t like the call he made in a close game between two high school rival teams.
In one, on how not to be a good parental role model for 8-year-olds, parents scream obscenities and berate game officials as they walk their children to their cars in the parking lot.
Barlow deserves credit for this service. He calls it a “very visual deterrent” for not only those caught on video but for others who might ask themselves, “Do I look like that jerk?”
Today, we live in a less kind and less gentle nation. We have grown more disconnected and dysfunctional in our relationships. Instead of understanding that game officials are constantly making judgment calls, some refuse to acknowledge this fact of life and insist it is either their way or the highway.
Come on, people, are we at the point where we believe that the world will come apart at the seams if Matthew doesn’t get a hit in a Little League baseball game or Amy doesn’t score a goal on the soccer field?
The purpose of athletics is to prepare children for healthy life skills — how to deal with challenges, how to face adversity, how to be a good sport both in victory and defeat. Do parents not see the disconnect in how their children will react to their bad behavior toward officials?
Pennsylvania is one of 23 states that has legislation on the books to protect sports officials, according to the National Association of Sports Officials. In fact, this was one of the charges brought against the defendant in the Panther Valley Intermediate School incident.
Unlike simple assault, assault on a sports official is considered a first-class misdemeanor, which carries much stiffer penalties.
By Bruce Frassinelli | firstname.lastname@example.org