In a study by the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), more than 76 percent of survey respondents listed poor sportsmanship by parents as the biggest reason that officials quit. Berka has noticed an uptick in abusive behavior in the past few years and contributes in to social media and television and a trickle down effect, “Everything is magnified from the professional ranks, through the collegiate ranks. What’s seen on television and social media in terms of behavior of coaches and players towards officials at the professional level is eventually to be mimicked at the collegiate level. If it’s happening at the collegiate level eventually it will be mimicked at the high school level unfortunately,” Berka said.
At West High, fans acting out may be less of an issue than at other schools, “It has not been a problem so far in my experience here. I have had other situations at other schools where that has been a problem.” Huegel said.
Sowers agrees, but does admit to noticing some hostility, although notes it is in the nature of the job that officials will have to deal with it. “I think that sometimes the student section can get too intense and too into the refs’ faces, but for the most part, I think we’re all right,” Sowers said, “I think that the refs need to know that going into the job that they are going to get some comments at them, but they just need to do their job.”
The student section, though, are not the only ones who show act out toward officials. Parents and coaches are also seen as aggressive at times, although for coaches it is the nature of the job to want to win and fight to win the game. “I think coaches sometimes [are] a little more hostile to the refs, if they are trying to fight for a certain point or play, because I think that their job is to obviously protect their players, obviously fight for every point they can,” Sowers said.
Hartwig agrees, “I get after officials, I like to think that I’m pretty fair and unbiased, but I also advocate for my team first, and sometimes that requires me to get in their ear.”
As for players, Hartwig has the rules clearly laid out for his team, “We have a pretty straightforward rule that we’ve established and that is you don’t talk to the refs unless they talk to you. Even then they are usually one word answers ‘yes’ or ‘no’, other than that it is me that is in charge of communication with the team,” Hartwig said.
Despite the efforts of players and coaches to behave hostilely to referees, abuse definitely affects the official’s mindset. “I think it’s something that weighs on you but for me personally I would not consider quitting because of anything I hear from a fan. I understand fans are very emotional, especially parents can be very emotional when their son or daughter is involved in a contest and I try to separate that as much as possible and understand that they’re just reacting emotionally,” Mathias said.
Berka believes that fans and students should be educated on behavior, so the game can be enjoyable and educational, “[We need to] really work on educating coaches and educating fans. … The way that coaches and fans behave towards officials is sometimes not ok. It’s not part of respectful discourse, it’s not part of what high school athletics should be, which is a part of the educational process.”
Brooke Goodman ’18, a student who officiated for a North Liberty youth baseball league this summer, did not directly experience much abuse, but it was something that worried her, “It definitely made me nervous because I have experience just from playing sports [that] parents are really involved in kids athletics. So I was a little nervous making calls especially since I hadn’t done it before,” Goodman said. “I know some of my friends have experienced it before and I didn’t really experience anything pointed at me.”