Attacking officials needs to stop – now!
By Bruce Karnick
I should warn you this is long, because I am angry. It’s long because I cannot stay silent and if I did not use this outlet to build toward a positive change, I fail as a person that loves this community. If I don’t stand up and put a stop to this kind of bullying, I have no right to ask you too either. I am asking that now.
I care about our kids, our athletes, our sports, and the fans in the community, and something must change. A small portion of you won’t like this. Too bad. Some of that group will be offended. Again, too bad. If you fall in either of those categories, it’s because I am calling you out for ‘being that person.' I know the majority of local sports fans are great. I love seeing you at the events, I love saying hi. I love hearing about how you liked an article I wrote or a picture I took. I love that your kid knows me by name and has no issue talking to me. This story is for you too, but in a different way.
Being a sports official is a job that many of us would never take, yet so many of us think we know better when a call is made or not made. The problem is fans have become more bold? No...brave? Definitely not… Aggressive? Yes!
Yes, aggressive, when it comes to expressing their displeasure of sports officials and the jobs they do. The aggression from fans has become absurd. The abuse officials take is despicable and the threats they receive over school and youth sports calls is disgusting.
Read that last paragraph again, because this needs to sink in.
I will even go as far as to say this. If you have been to any youth sports game in the last few years, you also play a part in the blame. ‘But…but… I don’t say anything!’ Right, you DON’T say anything. You don’t call the jerk that is sitting near you out for being a jerk. You don’t look at someone that just crossed the line and tell them to knock it off and sit down. That jerk and other jerks like them are causing a huge shortage of officials around the state.
If you are one of the people that thinks it's funny to give officials a hard time, it’s not, especially at the levels I am talking about. I am an official. I may not officiate much anymore, but I have officiated enough over the years to know that things are different now, and it’s not good.
Last baseball season, Hastings was at Rosemount. The game was tied 0-0 with the bases loaded. Rosemount’s pitcher had been great all game but suddenly found himself struggling. They are kids. It’s going to happen. This is the same game where a miscommunication happened, and Rosemount did not schedule any officials. The two officials there dropped what they were doing to come officiate the game. The field ump didn’t make it until the third inning after an hour delay. Remember this important thing: Those umpires bailed out the Rosemount officials. Had there been no officials, Rosemount would have had to forfeit the game.
I was on the field down the third baseline taking pictures. The pitcher threw a great fastball and the Rosemount catcher got too close with his glove when he went to catch the ball. Initially the call was a foul ball. Coach Pagel came out of the dugout and asked the home plate umpire to confirm with the infield umpire that it was not a foul, but interference. They spoke for less than a minute and the home plate umpire awarded the batter the base. That forced in a run in the top of the sixth inning to break up an amazing pitchers’ duel by both teams. The stands erupted with a chorus of boos and parents yelling at the umpire.
By the time the umpire got back in position behind home plate, someone had yelled that the umpires should die for that call, and it didn’t stop.
It was disgusting. That fan should have been banned from high school sports for life. Remember, these officials bailed out the school to be treated like that. This is the same crowd that also told one of the Hastings players that it wouldn’t hurt him to eat a salad now and then.
Sports fans need to wake up. It needs to stop. I said much of this in an article about a local high school losing three really great people as coaches this last season, and, unless parents and fans learn to behave, we are going to lose more. You don’t need to second guess every decision these coaches and officials make. You don’t need to yell at them when you don’t agree. It’s not going to change the call. You don’t need to call or email the coach because you think little Johnny is the best kid on the team and he should be starting and playing more. Seriously, stop that. Let the kids play the game they love because they love it. Teach your kids to advocate for themselves as young adults. Let them learn what their supervisor expects from them from a performance standpoint and help them achieve that by practicing with them, guide them.
As far as officials go, it starts at the youth level. Right now, Little Raiders in Hastings is practically begging for football officials. Know what they pay per game? About $50. Know what HYAA pays a single umpire for a 14/15 game? About $60. At the amateur level, the Hastings Hawks pay $125 per game. The high school is less than that. So, let’s break that $125 down. Anywhere from an hour to hour and a half drive round trip, game starts at 7:30, ends around 10, plus the time to change. It’s about five hours by the time it’s all said and done. So, an amateur baseball ump makes about $25 an hour. But they worked their way up through the ranks. They worked the three-hour game for $40 as a kid, they study, they go to classes, they became licensed, went through background checks. They earned the $25 an hour because they work their tails off for three hours in the heat. They don’t make nearly enough to put up with any kind of abuse. These officials are not prolevel umps making six figures as umpires. So be kind to them.
Local athletic directors have been well aware of this problem and how it’s getting much worse. In Hastings, Athletic Director Trent Hanson took matters into his own hands. He created a script to be read at each of the Raider home games. A player from each team takes turns reading from a script, and you know what? They are embarrassed. Not for themselves, but for you. They are embarrassed that it takes two kids begging you to act like an adult. Director Hanson wrote a wonderful reminder for the small group that simply doesn’t get it.
The script talks about keeping chants and cheers positive and respectful towards players, coaches and officials. It also talks about letting the kids play the game they love. The students talk about how they love that fans are there to cheer them on and that’s what they need to focus on. It explains that the officials and coaches are certified to work their positions. It talks about leaving the game knowing that all fans acted with class.
We lose the officials folks, we lose sports. Plain and simple.
So, I am begging you. Please stop. Without officials to run the sports we love to see our kids in, we don’t get to see our kids play the sports they love. We don’t get the awesome pictures, the stories, the memories, the friendships, the relationships and the learning opportunities.
We lose all that because a small portion of people in the stands think they know better than the official and they cannot shut their mouth. A small portion of people must tear someone else down because they don’t agree with the call. Yes, I am tired of this folks, and everyone reading this should be tired of it too. It needs to stop.
We lose the officials folks, we lose sports.
Plain and simple.