With high school referee shortage, organization asks parents to ‘cool it’

CLEVELAND– Respect is something that is earned, not given. When it comes to high school sports, nobody could use it more than an official.

They all have plenty of horror stories to share.

“Coming out of the stands, getting face-to-face with me as a referee, verbal abuse,” are some of the experiences basketball referee Chuck Grimm has seen first hand.

It’s acts like these that are to blame in part for the shortage of high school referees. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, more than 75 percent of high school officials quit because of “adult behavior.”

“We had one umpire one time in a tournament, he got so fed up and he got paid before the game, he took the money out of his pocket, threw it on the plate and walked away,” said umpire Russ Keichel.

In a letter that went out Monday to parents of high school athletes, the federation asked parents to cheer and yell for your son or daughter and their teams, but when it comes to the officials, cool it.

“Too late,” Keichel said. “Long time coming. We have needed something like that for the parents that get a little out of hand on occasion.”

There are more officials over the age of 60 than under 30 in many areas, and when the experienced officials retire, there are not enough younger ones to replace them.

“Officials are doing the best job they can based on the experience they have,” Grimm said.

Many, if not all, of these officials are working a different game each night, sometimes as much as 20-plus games a month. They have seen a lot and heard a lot, and wouldn’t mind a little break. Often times they are making a split-second decision.

“That’s the hardest part about this job,” said basketball referee Joe Miller.

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