Years ago I used to referee basketball and softball.

I had taken an "Officiating Basketball" class in college -- it was a real class and was actually pretty tough. The tests were killer.


But as part of that class, all students were required to referee a certain number of games, be it intramural, local rec league, sub-varsity high school, even church ball (provided you could document that you actually did it).

I did most of my basketball officiating at the intramural level at BYU. Most of the athletes involved in these leagues were former high school stars who couldn't quite make it at the next level, but wanted to stay active and keep their playing careers alive. Kudos to them.

I remember one night officiating a game and my fiance' at the time (now my wife) Shelly, came to watch me work. She sat in the stands among all the other girlfriends and wives, observing and quietly pulling for me to do well.


At one point I had a difficult decision on a close call. The charge/block call in basketball has kept many a referee up at night and as the moment came, I had to hurry and decide (split-second, really). As this was 30 or so years ago, I don't remember exactly what I called, but I remember Shelly telling me that the woman sitting next to her didn't like it.

"You suck!" the lady called out. "Where did you learn to ref?! That's terrible!"

You get used to that stuff as an official and truthfully, most of the time you don't even hear it.

The game went on and as it hit a bit of a lull, the lady next to Shelly asked her if her husband was playing and which team he was on.

"Oh no, he's not playing. He's that one over there, the tall official," Shelly said.

Shelly said she could see the woman turn red with embarrassment at what she had hollered earlier. She even stammered an apology with something like, "I'm not usually like that ..."

We still laugh about that now, but it does serve as a reminder that we fans sometimes don't act like civil human beings when we are in a stressful sports environment.

A friend of mine is a recreation director for a local town and he said people go from zero-to-belligerent in no time at all, especially if their kids or grandkids are playing in the games.

:"We've had to ban dads, moms, even grandparents from games because of their behavior," he said.

Recently, Craig Oswald, who is a high school referee and also his town's sports and recreation director put up a post on social media. A couple of points Oswald made:

"This year in a freshman football game I was called a coward Through the years I’ve heard it all. "You suck ref, "Go back to footlocker," "Get your eyes checked," "Are you stupid," and so on.

"Is it ok? No, but I can handle it. What I can’t handle is as a recreation director seeing people treat our teenaged officials this way. Can you imagine if teacher reacted this way in class? A kid misses a question on a test and the teacher says 'Good heck, are you stupid?' cuz that’s essentially what we are doing right now."

Officiating younger leagues is where these young people learn. And not just the referees, but also the players. What are we teaching them. LIke Oswald says:

"The next time you want to yell at the officials think to yourself am I really helping this situation? What am I teaching this kid? And maybe the best one is what am I teaching my kid?"

I've always been of the opinion that unless you're also out there trying to officiate, you have no room to criticize.

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