Bad behavior in high school, middle school games need to stop

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Peter Caster

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There is an unfortunate trend that continues in Washington and across the country that needs to be stopped: the misbehavior of coaches, parents, and fans at high school and college sporting events.

We’ve all seen it: yelling, harassing, berating, disrespecting and even physically attacking referees, umpires and other officials during and after games. And often, the harassment continues on social networks. Perhaps you have witnessed it first hand or even been one of these offenders yourself.

Not only is this behavior unacceptable and embarrassing, it also has serious consequences for the future of educational athletics.

That’s because another unfortunate trend is sweeping the nation: a critical shortage of high school and college officials in every state. The number one reason? You guessed it: coaches, parents and fans mistreat officials.

National surveys of civil servants report alarming statistics:

  • 55% of officials say verbal abuse from coaches, parents and fans is the main reason they quit.
  • 59% do not feel respected.
  • 57% think sportsmanship is deteriorating.
  • 84% believe that officials are treated unfairly by spectators.
  • 46% felt unsafe or feared for their safety due to the behavior of a spectator, coach, administrator or player.

Civil servants quit faster than new ones join. This is a major concern for states like Washington just to cover games. We are already seeing the cancellation of varsity and junior games and, in some cases, university games as well. All because there are not enough officials.

Unfortunately, bad behavior at school sporting events has become normalized. Coaches, parents and fans are almost expected to disrespect people serving as officials.

This culture of bad behavior and the negative perception of public servants must change now. Everyone involved in high school and college sports—parents, coaches, administrators, fans, media—must focus on the student-athletes playing the games and away from the individuals officiating the competitions.

The bottom line: Without high school or college officials, there can be no high school or college sports.

That’s why the National Federation of State High School Associations is partnering with state high school associations across the country to launch the national #BenchBadBehavior campaign. We will use the power of social media along with other tools to help educate everyone on the importance of good behavior at high school sporting events.

You can help by being a positive role model at your high school sporting events. And if you think you have what it takes to be a licensed official, enroll today at HighSchoolOfficials.com and help fill a pressing need in Washington.

Dr. Karissa Niehoff is the Executive Director of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Mick Hoffman is executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.

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