Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

Posts Tagged ‘umpire abuse

There’s a little crazy parent in all of us

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eg-fa-respect-logodisplayBefore my oldest son’s seventh- and eighth-grade rec league co-ed team took the basketball court today, we were treated to an exciting game by two of the high school league teams. We also were treated to appalling conduct by some of what I assumed were the players’ parents.

The yelling at the referees was incessant, more than I had ever heard at games involving younger kids. So much for Hansen’s Youth Sports Law. The refs kicked one particularly angry father out of the gym, but others took up the slack. The one benefit was my brother-in-law and I being able to point to them to show the lesson how ridiculous you look when you’re constantly worried about the officials.

I’ve written about referee abuse before, about how it’s considered so endemic some state legislatures are passing laws instituting tougher punishment for attacking an official than attacking your next-door neighbor. And today I was going to do it again.

Then I read the first comment on the bottom of a story (actually, the last comment in chronological order) in the Calgary Herald about the local hockey association instituted a zero-tolerance policy on ref abuse after a parent shoved an official.

I’ll reproduce it here, but I want to summarize what I think is its major point. The assumption often is that crazy parents have major-league dreams for their kids, and that’s why they act crazily. That is not necessarily so. What these parents have in common is the natural desire to protect their children — something any good parent has — and the knowledge that the youth sports system has politics that work against those parents who fail to speak up. What they also have in common is their inability to handle these feelings constructively.

The post doesn’t mention why parents would take this out on referees (though at the bottom you’ll see some interesting proposals to make sure these conflicts are nipped in the bud before they ever grow). I think it’s one part a long tradition of yelling at officials at all levels, one part a visceral reaction to competition and one part a visceral reaction to bad things happening against your child added to a base of projecting frustrations onto a rulemaker how some might project their frustrations in real life on a lawyer or politician.3187257432_d8b94461d7_m2

The Calgary Herald post, in its entirely (all typos are sic, and I have separated the post into paragraphs for readability):

“I understand that there is a big challenge in discipline within the operations of Hockey Calgary. What is extremely tired and boring, however, is how Hockey Calgary , the media and ignorant people keep banging the drum that parents who are upset at officiating or coaching or whatever are thinking their kids have a shot at the NHL and this is the parents’ motivation for their actions. Get off it. You are extremely out of touch if you believe that is what parents believe.

“Parents motivation for these actions are not because of NHL aspirations, it is because of an intense sense of competition and desire to protect their child from what the parent perceives is happening to him/her. Now, there are perceptions and realities and whether or not the parent is right or wrong about what is really going on…that is the motivation. To lay this tired and ongoing copout that the problems are because of parents thinking their son/daughter is going to the NHL and this or that coach or manager or ref or association is constraining that dream is overplayed, overhyped and patently wrong and irresponsible.

“Everyone knows a player who did not make a team they should have (read: coaches picks) Many of us have seen a player picked on the bottom end of a team because he lives nearby the coach, is family friends—I have seen it continuously for the past 6 years in minor hockey. I have been lucky as my son has never expeienced this because of his God given abilities. I have seen it EVERY year, though where everyone says and asks why is that kid on a team—he is a coaches pick. I know that bottom of a division team or top of the team below are interchangeable, but nonetheless, the logical pick is rarely the pick, just the player that fits into the right mold of having been with that coach for a while, friend of the coach or whatever.

“Now, I do not believe this is a problem in minor hockey, but it demonstrates that some players do not always get a fair shake and parents want to protect them in any way they can. You would be a liar if you told me that you did not know a player that got passed over or raised an eyebrow when hearing about a certain player on a given team. It is not the NHL dream that gets parents fired up, it is a perception that there kid or team is getting screwed over and some people make poor decisions on how to handle this.

“As crazy as this sounds, it would be more beneficial to the problem to have minor hockey officials at a ton of games at the beginning of the season and not just observe parent, coach behavior, but identify oneself to parents during a game when there are inappropriate actions by parents…nip it at the bud right away and demonstrate to parents and coaches that this will not be tolerated…getting involved after the fact is grandstanding, really. You need to be involved at the game level, not just after the fact.

“You can have all the commercial campaigns you want, but if you only react after something egregious has occurred, it will only be a short term solution. It can be volunteers who choose to work a few games one a weekend or one weekend a month or whatever, but dealing with everything after the fact is nonsense. If one were admonished or gently pulled aside during a game, then the impact on that parent and others attending the game would be extremely meaningful. To argue that is too difficult, and I know it would be very difficult, is choosing to go down the same path every year of incident-punishment, incident-punishment. It is obvious that the campaigns do little. Please stop banging your head against the wall.”


2, 4, 6, 8, what we gonna legislate?

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In Missouri, it’s carving out as its own special assault the crime of beating the shit out of referees or coaches, something heartily supported by this columnist at the Blue Springs Examiner. The proposed state legislation, not beating the shit out of referees or coaches:

Usually I’m not a fan of the state legislature sticking its nose into the sports world.

The state representatives and senators have considered trying to take over the Missouri State High School Activities Association in the past, and that was a very bad idea.

But the Missouri House is currently considering legislation that would make penalties stiffer for attacking a sports official in the state.

And that is a very good idea.

It’s OK to disagree with a call now and then. I have to say I even have from time to time when watching my daughter’s games.

But officials in any sport have a tough enough time without having to worry about someone attacking them after – or during – the event.

And this proposed legislation would make people who have an inclination to do such things think twice before they act. Such attacks, under this bill, would mean the person instigating it would face up to a year in jail or a $1,000 fine. As of now, most of these attacks would fall under third-degree assault, which is punishable by only a $300 fine.

I would definitely brain a referee for $300. But for $1,000? Whoo, I’m sitting right back down. Just be glad, Missouri people, they haven’t yet taken away your right to even disagree with the ref.

Seriously, about 20 states have passed similar laws, though no one can track how many ref and coach assaults happened before the bills passed, and how many happened afterward. But even with no empirical evidence, we all feel better when these laws go on the books, right? (The sponsor of the law that passed in my home state of Illinois was my own state Senator, Ed Maloney.) And then we can mock states like Connecticut, where such a bill has failed multiple times, and call them referee-and-coach shit-beater-outer lovers.


In the posher realms of Connecticut, these shirts are called “ref beaters.”

In Rhode Island, it’s forming a state committee to hash out youth sports disputes — including fines for parties deemed to be the evil side. From The Associated Press:

Soccer dads and hockey moms beware: Lose your cool at your kids’ games and you might have to pay.

A bill pending in Rhode Island would create a seven-member council to settle disputes in youth recreational leagues, with the power to fine parents or others it thinks are in the wrong. Backers say it would create a more systematic way for resolving sports fights that sometime result in children or parents arbitrarily being removed from organized leagues.

While some other state and town governments have tried to enforce good sportsmanship, national experts say no state has ever considered intervening so deeply in sideline squabbles. …

Jeff Southworth, 48, said more regulation is needed to hold league officials accountable. He called Pawtucket police more than three years ago after he said his daughter’s soccer coach showed up angry and unwelcome at his family’s home. The two clashed over league matters, he said, including whether Southworth could videotape soccer games.

Southworth’s daughter quit the team and needed counseling, he said. The family tried, but was unable to get, local or state soccer officials or the city government to intervene. …

Sen. John Tassoni Jr., a Democrat who works for a politically influential labor union and the bill’s sponsor, said he may still revise the bill to give the council the power to compel witnesses to testify. Identical legislation has been filed by Democratic Rep. Timothy Williamson, the senior deputy majority leader in the House.

Tassoni wrote the legislation after hearing from parents, including the mother of a young girl cut from a football cheerleading squad because her mother argued with a coach.

“The board of directors said, ‘You’re out. Take your kid and leave,'” Tassoni said. “Who loses? The child loses because they can’t play sports with their friends.” …

No surprise, league officials hate this bill. Perhaps because it’s being pushed by the same asshole parents that make their lives hell to begin with. This bill, by the way, establishes no parameters for the threshhold for complaints to be heard. Whether they’re right or wrong, there’s nothing youth sports volunteers will like more than being dragged before a state committee to explain why Timmy isn’t getting enough playing time.

Finally, in Maryland, it’s making sure youth (and adult) sports officials aren’t covered by the state’s unemployment insurance law. The impetus was when a recently laid-off worker/active umpire listed Howard County Officials Inc. on his unemployment form, which led the state’s department of labor to demand $15,700 in payment from the group for past unpaid unemployment insurance. From The View Newspapers:

[Bill sponsor Allan] Kittleman [a Republican from West Friendship] said the state’s new interpretation of referees could have far-reaching implications, forcing officiating organizations across Maryland to pay thousands of dollars in taxes previously not required or risk closing.

The state’s Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation opposes Kittleman’s bill, saying his legislation would create a “loophole” that could have unintended consequences. “… Such carve-outs can unintentionally leave categories or workers without the ability to collect unemployment benefits, a critical social safety net,” the agency argued in testimony submitted to the Finance Committee.

Agency spokeswoman Dori Berman said the state routinely opposes exemptions to the unemployment insurance law, though committee members said “paperboys” have already been exempted.

Even if Kittleman’s bill were to pass, it would likely not save the group, which has about 40 umpires working more than 3,000 games a year, because of the $15,700 bill it’s facing, the umpires said.

At [a] hearing, Thomas Perez, secretary of the state Labor Department, said he hoped to meet with Kittleman and find a “common-sense” solution to the officials’ troubles, although he would have to study it more before saying what that solution might be.

“If we had some time to craft something that made legal sense and common sense, we’re more than willing to do that,” Perez said, adding that he once spent summers umpiring baseball games. “There are a number of layers of review that could very well result in a different determination.”

So far, there are no reports of any meeting between Howard County Officials and the labor department. And the bill hasn’t moved anywhere since the Feb. 17 hearing. That means there’s only one thing the aggrieved organization and its officials can do — complain about the jagoff who blew their cover.

(Don’t) kill the ump!

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william-ligue Stories like this seem so common, it would be news if a parent DIDN’T pop off at an official:

Upset with the calls an umpire made at his daughter’s youth league softball game, Michael Beck [not pictured] cursed and threatened the official.

When a DuPage County (Ill.) sheriff’s deputy arrived at the park near Downers Grove to restore order, Beck spit — twice — on the officer, authorities said.

On Tuesday, Beck’s unsportsmanlike conduct netted him a five-day jail sentence, a $500 fine and an order to attend anger-management counseling.

The 47-year-old Hanover Park man was sentenced after he pleaded guilty to reduced charges of misdemeanor battery and assault stemming from the July 13 altercation at Sunset Park.

Beck — who authorities said spit sunflower seeds and saliva on the sheriff’s deputy — initially was charged with felony aggravated battery, which carries a maximum seven-year prison term.

DuPage County prosecutors agreed to a plea deal that saw the charges reduced to misdemeanors in exchange for Beck, who has no prior criminal record, admitting his guilt.

While I would like to say that people who have short fuses in real life are more likely to yell at a ref working a kiddie game, I’ve seen enough mild-mannered people lose their shit to say otherwise. Or maybe I just didn’t know them as well as I thought. Like a guy I played softball with who was giving a talk to parents about the sports program at my kids’ old school. He emphasized that the point was having fun and learning a sport, and then he segued into, “So this one time when I got a technical foul during a fifth-grade game…”

I was assured later that the ref was being a jerk to him, but still. I recommended these handy-dandy rules for you, as a parent and/or coach, to keep a healthy lid on your feelings and not end up being led off in handcuffs.

Rule #1: As potential injustices against your child go, getting a borderline ball/strike call against him or her is pretty low on the list, behind sexual abuse, bullying and the cable going out briefly in the middle of SpongeBob.

Rule #2: The quality of refereeing should be expected to be relative to the age and ability of the players. The reincarnation of Earl Strom is not going to work your kid’s fourth-grade basketball game. Not that they are awful — they’re usually quite good and dedicated, in my estimation. But you can’t expect a child’s game to be called like an NBA game.

Rule #2a: Rule #2 is especially true if coaches have to work their own games, or a 14-year-old is running the show.

Rule #3: If you’re a coach, and a kid starts getting hot and bothered by the refs, pull that kid off the field/court/playing surface RIGHT NOW and tell him or her the calls aren’t any of his or her business. The message: you are a child, and the referee is an adult (or at least an elder). End of discussion. If that’s not enough, I’ve found kids who worry about the refs tend to start forgetting about their own game, and end up struggling and taking their teammates down with them.

Rule #4: Coach, make clear (nicely) at the beginning of the season to your parents that ref- and ump-baiting isn’t tolerated by your league (it usually isn’t, and I’ve seen at least one parent put on probation for it — he could go to the games, but he wasn’t allowed to speak. To anybody.). Parents, please don’t gripe about the refs to each other in post-game analysis. Heck, you shouldn’t even be doing post-game analysis.

Rule #5: Officials are human beings. If they’re abused, they might not show up anymore. Or, they might end up making the borderline calls against you because you have supremely pissed them off. These folks are paid little, if anything, and are working these games because they enjoy the sport.

Rule #6: The above rules can be modified if an official is indeed abusive. Not petty, not incompetent, but abusive to kids and coaches. You’re probably better off reporting it to your league in question rather than tarring and feathering the official right there, because vigilante justice never works, particularly if parents have to ask the official to wait right there while they go to the store for tar and feathers.

Written by rkcookjr

January 8, 2009 at 12:53 pm