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Loud fans can solve shortage of officials

You’ve heard that person. He or she is loudly berating the game officials at the athletic event you are attending.

If it’s a professional sport, that’s one thing. Professional umpires and officials get plenty of training and are paid good money. They can handle a little verbal abuse (obviously, there is a line that should not be stepped over).

But a witty, “You can borrow my glasses, ref,” or “I found your cell phone, ump, it’s got two missed calls,” are OK in most instances.

Apparently, though, some people are taking things too far and have been for some time. Both the Ohio High School Athletic Association and the National Federation of High Schools report that game officials at the high school level and lower — junior varsity, middle school — are quitting at alarming rates in large part because of abuse from fans.

There have been instances of irate fans approaching officials after games, sending threatening phone calls or texts and inappropriate posts on social media, etc.

Things have gotten bad enough that the OHSAA has put out media releases in recent months describing a deteriorating situation.

Beginning today in a multi-story series, the Tribune Chronicle takes a look at the situation and how it affects high school sports in the area.

Assigners of officials are finding it more and more difficult to fill all the scheduled games on a given night. As established officials get older and retire, that situation will only get worse.

Of course, abuse from fans is not the only reason fewer people are getting into officiating. There can be considerable equipment and travel costs and the pay is minuscule at best.

But the great majority of game officials are not involved for the money. Many are former athletes who find officiating and umpiring a good way to stay in the game. Others do it as a way to give back to the youth in their community. If there are no officials, there are no games.

I umpired high school baseball for about 10 years and did soccer for four or five years. I can tell you, it can be difficult. It’s one thing to sit in the stands where you clearly can see everything — that was meant as a sarcastic barb; you actually cannot see as well from the stands — but it’s much different on the field with a whistle in your mouth.

There is some hope for the situation in that in some places consideration is being given to including officiating classes in the college or high school academic offerings.

In the end, we as fans — and youth coaches, sometimes the worst offenders — can help by keeping our mouths shut when we see what we think is a bad call.

Another way to help is to grab a whistle or ball-strike counter, put the gear on and get out and do it. Every sports season the various officials organizations in the area offer classes.

Those of you who have been making the calls from the stands all these years, why not come down and help to provide a partial answer to a difficult situation.

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