Referees are People too


Zach Kehoe, Staff Writer

The whistle blows on a controversial play. “Referee, that call was horrible who do you think you are!” A fan bellows at a youth soccer referee. That same referee went home and never officiated a game ever again. Unfortunately, incidents like this happen all the time to officials and the problem only seems to be getting worse. 

Across the nation there is a vast youth referee shortage, but why does no one want to become an official anymore? It has a lot to do with society treating referees like dirt. The constant harassment that parents, coaches, and players dish out discourages anyone from wanting to work as a referee.   

From my personal experience as a referee, I have wanted to quit many times. This was all because of parent or a coach’s verbal harassment. One incident in particular sticks out to me. Last year when I was officiating an upper level soccer game the home teams coach blew a gasket. Due to some calls not benefiting his team, the coach decided to verbally assault my referee team and myself.

The most prolific issue that referees face is the abuse and poor sportsmanship from parents, coaches and players. The compensation referees receive is not worth the harassment that comes with the job. “Last year fans at one of our rival schools, not involving Johnston, came out of the stands and chased the referees to the locker room after a controversial ending to a Friday night football game,” athletic director Joe Nelson said. “The police were called to provide a safe exit for the officials. Our Johnston Police Department would would never let it escalate to that point.” Referees should never have to fear for their safety while doing their job so it is very reassuring that Johnston prioritizes official safety. “The Johnston PD makes Friday night game security a top priority for our guests. I’m proud of the partnership our Athletic Department has with Officer Slack, Officer Townes, Officer Steck and the rest of the Johnston PD,” said Nelson. Johnston compared to other school districts provides more support for our referees. 

Referee shortages are a major issue facing our nation. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations they have lost over 70 percent of referees over the past three years. Nelson elaborated on his experiences in trying to recruit referees. “I would say I’ve tried to get 100 people started [refereeing] and maybe I have 10 kids that are still officiating right now,” Nelson said. “The young kids that quit officiating all say the same thing, it’s just not worth it, the abuse I take is just not worth the hassle.” 

Referee treatment has gone downhill in recent years. “It’s unfortunate that we have such a large shortage of referees, umpires, and officials because it hasn’t always been that way,” Nelson said. “I started umpiring baseball when I was 15 years old, I’ll be 50 this spring-it was a lot different back in the day. Coaches, fans and players were more cordial, tolerant and understanding. I think when we saw the onset of so many competitive club and travel teams the fan culture changed.”

Parents and coaches in recent years have been respecting officials less and verbally berating them more. “Parents at an early age are making kids more competitive and many times they live vicariously through their own kids,” Nelson said. “I wish every disgruntled fan could see a 90mph fastball through the eyes of an umpire, or a block-charge call at full speed through the eyes of a referee in competitive CIML basketball game. Officiating is a tough job and it’s definitely not for everyone but it’s also provides the best seat in the house if you enjoy competitive athletes. From a personal standpoint, I’m proud of the way our Johnston coaches and student athletes treat officials at home and on the road.”

This issue seems irreversible, how can society get parents and coaches to demonstrate more kindness? The culture of sports has to be changed completely. If a referee makes a bad call, do not scream, yell and throw a fit. Realize that referees are people too. By yelling and shaming referees, our society is discouraging them from working a game ever again.