Fear on the fields: A push for stronger penalties for assaults on referees

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COPLEY - Several referees from around Ohio tell the Fox 8 I-Team they are now often fearful when they officiate games.

"I was assaulted via a parent who came of the stands cause his son was thrown out of the game for foul and abusive language," said Referee Mike Porpora of Akron. "The parent came up to me and just started hitting me in the chest with his finger trying to make his point."

And Andy Milligan, of Copley, has had similar experiences.

"I was doing a soccer game last fall and after I had ejected a high school player from a game his father came over to me after the game and told me if his son had to sit out the two-game suspension for the ejection he was going to come and get me."

Milligan and Porpora both have been officiating youth soccer games for years.

"It's getting to the point that people don't want to referee, they don't want to do it anymore," Milligan said.

Milligan says he wants Ohio to join more than 20 other states and increase the criminal penalty if a sports official is assaulted.

State Senator Kristina Roegner and State Representative Bill Roemer recently introduced bills in the senate and house, that would raise the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony for assaulting a sports official while on the job. If the bill becomes law, a person convicted of assaulting a sports official could face up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine.

"Teachers, administrators, school bus drivers , all those individuals work in a school setting and if you assault one of them it is a fifth degree felony but if you assault an umpire on the field it's only a misdemeanor," Roegner told the I-Team. "I think the referees should have the same protection."

And Roemer, and his co-sponsor Joe Miller agree. Roemer, who umpired baseball games for close to two decades, said he believes lawmakers have to take action.

"The Ohio High School Athletic Association is having a lot of difficulties finding umpires, they are having trouble finding soccer referees, and football officials," Roemer said. "The number one reason identified is the abuse the umpire and referees take."

State lawmakers and referees are hoping the bill becomes law this year.

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