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An OSSAA official follows behind while Ike’s Ginger Reece (center) tries to get by Mac’s McKenzie Washington (right) in a city game on Jan. 12.For starters, the pay for this job is minimal, and you have to go through hours of training just to get the chance to do the job. Once you’re there, though, that’s when the fun starts.You are constantly scrutinized. Complete strangers scream at you, tell you how awful you are at your job. On the days when you are doing better than average, people either don’t notice, or they simply refuse to acknowledge how well you did.People constantly tell you you’re wrong, and they’re right, dnd you best believe that when something happens that does not go the way those people hoped, you will get blamed for it, regardless of whether it was even your fault. Because the crowd is never wrong, of course.You are mocked and berated, told you are “horrible” and “a disgrace” by people who have never been in your line of work. I also can’t guarantee that people won’t make fun of your appearance, attributes or anything else about yourself they find easy to target.However, there are some perks to every job, right? Sure, not everybody likes having their intelligence or knowledge of their profession questioned, but just “tough it out” and “take it like a man”.No, I’m not talking about being President. In fact, one might think the abuse you take in the profession I’m describing is almost silly considering the relatively low stakes involved in your job.Anyway, have I swayed you? Does it sound like something you want to try?If so, I encourage you to go to your local youth sports league or even the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) and apply to be a referee or umpire. In fact, even if it doesn’t sound tempting to you, I encourage you to consider applying anyway.I encourage people to apply not simply as punishment, but because we have a ref shortage in this state and around the country, especially in basketball. Some of the things I’ve heard from high school fans this basketball season have reminded me why.From mocking to berating to borderline threatening, the type of rhetoric shouted by sports fans at amateur athletic events can be downright disgusting. Although referees are not perfect, who among us is?I’ve been to games where fans claimed the refs were blowing the game when the team they were cheering for was up by 40 points. I’ve heard fans claim the refs were getting paid off. And yes, I’ve even heard a fan call a referee a racist when all the players on the floor were the same race.As you can imagine,
most referees do not take too kindly to this sort of ridicule. Todd Dilbeck is the Director of Officials for the OSSAA. When I asked him about the ref shortage, he informed me this is, predictably, not just a state problem, but a national epidemic.Older refs are retiring, and the OSSAA has trouble replacing them quickly. When they do replace them, it’s impossible to replicate the years of experience. Getting new officials has not necessarily been the issue, though. It’s been getting them to stay.”The problem stems from retaining officials,” Dilbeck said in an email. “We have ones who get interested and then they go through a couple of seasons with little league sports and middle school sports. They are trained, yes, but this is not their professional career. They have other jobs that command their attention and concentration.Officiating is a way for them to make a little money while being around youth sports. Add in a shortage of refs in the state, and referees are stretched thin. Stress is inevitable.To some, that’s a poor excuse. As long as they are trained to do a job, why shouldn’t they be good at it? How hard can it be? That’s perfectly sound logic. So perfectly sound, it makes you wonder why more fans would rather yell “I could do a better job” than actually attempt to do the refs’ job.Why do we do it? Why do we break people down who are simply trying to do their job? That’s the question that sits at the root of the matter.I have yet to see a case where berating officials accomplished anything constructive.If a referee’s decision has been changed in your team’s favor because of hateful words you shouted, please let me know and give a specific example. Until I see concrete evidence of a referee going, “Gee, that man who called me a moron sure had a point”, I refuse to believe that belittling and ridiculing referees has a positive effect.Like many issues in our society, I think it comes down to power. By nature, people do not like it when other people have control, so when another human being gets to decide what is and isn’t a foul, that frustrates us because it could hinder our team’s performance, and that person has the whistle we do not.Another reason we like to belittle officials is because, let’s face it, it’s easier than admitting that our team made a mistake or is getting outplayed. While not all parents are guilty of this, we’ve probably all been around the type who believes their little Johnny or Susie could not possibly be guilty of traveling. Thus, the blame must lie with someone else.Based on the fact nobody (cheering for the winning side, at least) seems too upset by the final results, and given that people rarely go out of their way to contact the OSSAA after the game to file a formal complaint for bad officiating,
it doesn’t seem like fans are too concerned about fixing the problem. They’d rather just have something to complain about during the game.