Think Twice Before Harassing The Officials

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The best advice beleaguered sports officials might dole out to those fans and onlookers who fail to show them the respect they deserve is "walk a mile in my shoes."

That's because, most of those who pester and ridicule officials are know-nothing fans who've never whistled a ball dead, spotted the line of scrimmage, studied a rule book, or, for that matter, worn an athletic supporter.

They are crybabies who do not have the good sense to conduct themselves in a manner befitting their adult responsibilities.

I first learned the challenges and the abuse that goes with officiating sports in the late 1960s while running a summer youth baseball league in Tempe.

Years later, for the City of Show Low, I headed the men's and women's softball leagues and often officiated junior high, freshman and junior varsity basketball, baseball and football games.

During my early years in Payson, I volunteered as an official in the high school summer basketball tournament and junior high basketball games.

I enjoyed the camaraderie of being an official, but not the criticism from unwitting spectators.

And when hecklers are confronted about their jeers, they respond like kids caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

"What'd I do" or "All I did was ..." is usually their tacky defense for a lack of sportsmanship and common courtesy.

Officiating is not a job anyone can do. To be a good official it takes a special person with knowledge of the rules, dedication, commitment and a heavy dose of common sense.

In today's society, young people are no longer taking up the occupation and schools are losing veteran officials, mostly because of mistreatment.

Donna Lopiano, chief executive officer of the Women's Sports Foundation in New York had this to say about fan behavior: "Educational sport has the absolute right to demand that the attendee understand that this is a classroom, and that their behavior must be appropriate for a classroom."

There are also some well-chosen and valuable insights into officials and those who choose to harass them in the high school parent-athlete handbook.

It says: "Officials agree to follow a code of ethics. They really do not have a vested interest in which team emerges as the victor. It is important to understand that they are a very necessary part of a game. A contest cannot be played without them. While you may not agree with all their calls, please do not harass and taunt them. It is important to remember that they are in charge of the contest and have complete authority to have unruly spectators removed. In many sports, a team will see the same official several times during a season. Coaches, athletic administrators, and schools often work hard to establish a rapport and good working relationship, which can easily be damaged by spectators."

Even Sports Illustrated got into the second guessing act running a "Kill the Umps" article on its cover.

In Payson, some of the community's most outstanding citizens also serve as sports officials.

They include town vice mayor and PHS assistant principal Tim Fruth, Payson Police officers Steve Montgomery and Donnie Garvin, local real estate agent and former Lady Longhorn basketball coach, Rory Huff, and business manager, Norm Tucker.

When Patrick Walker was as chosen the Payson Roundup's Young Man of the Year last spring, one of the most impressive accomplishments on his resume was his time officiating.

Because he was still in high school, Patrick was not eligible to be an AIA certified official, but he had successfully refereed countless football, baseball and basketball games.

Patrick's abilities drew raves from veteran umpires and referees who said he had the makings of a quality high school official.

Our best hope is that Patrick doesn't burn out and give up the profession as so many quality officials have in the past decade.

Next time you're at a game and decide to dish out a dose of criticism, change courses. Show some class and cheer the kids rather than harangue the referees.

After all, officiating is a tough calling.

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