Words by Chris Karel
If you’ve ever been to a youth sports game, you’ve probably encountered those parents. The ones who can bring their kid to tears with a cutting criticism loudly shouted from the stands. The ones who encourage their children to treat others with kindness but then seem to relish hurling abuse at referees, coaches and even other players. The ones who are slowly killing youth sports.
A survey of 17,000 referees by the National Association of Sports Officials showed that 87% had experienced verbal abuse, with 13% stating that they had actually been physically assaulted. According to that same study, 80% of youth sports referees quit after just two years.
The article below isn’t real; it’s satire. But it may become a reality all too soon if parents don’t stop treating refs like their own personal punching bags.
CITY CANCELS YOUTH SPORTS AFTER LAST REFEREE QUITS
Parents plan protest
PLEASANTON, FL – Karen Knisely, Pleasanton’s head of recreation and parks, announced via Twitter last night that the city would no longer facilitate youth sports leagues. Knisely made the announcement shortly after receiving a resignation letter from the city’s last remaining referee.
In that letter, the referee – whose name is being withheld for security reasons – cited the events of last Saturday’s U-6 soccer match at Pleasanton Field, during which he had to be airlifted to safety after calling a handball penalty.
The letter reads, in part: “In soccer, only goalies can touch the ball with their hands. At five years old, kids are just learning the rules of the sport, so when this little girl – who was not a goalie – picked up the ball, I saw it as a teachable moment. I blew the whistle, and the girl smiled up at me. I smiled back, knelt down, and said, ‘You know what you did, right?’ To which she replied, ‘Yes’ before feigning embarrassment and letting out a giggle.”
The referee wrote that it was just that kind of interaction, gently helping a youngster learn and develop a love of the sport, that drew him to officiating in the first place. But what happened next was anything but gentle.
“As she handed me the ball, someone started yelling and banging on the protective barrier behind me,” he continued. “Had it not been for the safety fence, I would have been Franked.”
Last spring, referee Frank Jones was blindsided by an enraged grandmother after he whistled at her grandchild for traveling during an 8-and-under basketball game. Jones suffered a concussion after Ethel Martin, 62, hit him with her purse.
“You wouldn’t think a purse could do so much damage,” Jones told reporters following the altercation, “but with the concealed-carry handgun, and can of pepper spray, she may as well have been swinging a bag of bricks.”
Since the incident, Jones’ first name has been adopted as a colloquialism for physical violence against referees. So far this year, there have been over 1,000 Frankings across the U.S.
The incident prompted the city to install 10-foot-tall fencing at all youth sports venues, separating bleachers from playing courts and fields. That fencing helped prevent another incident of violence last Saturday.
In video of the melee, the child’s parents, Chad and Vicky Chalmers, can be seen scaling the anti-Frank fence while claiming that “the wind blew the ball into her hands” and admonishing the referee for “getting in their daughter’s face.” Soon thereafter, a dozen other spectators joined the Chalmers in rushing the barrier, with one holding up a sign asking if the official got his license at “Stupid Refs R Us.”
“Referees enforcing the rules of the game is emotionally scarring our daughter and every child on every field in this nation,” Vicky Chalmers stated in an interview following the incident. “It’s time for parents to take back control of youth sports.”
The Chalmers have announced plans for a rally at Pleasanton City Hall to protest the decision to shut down youth sports.
“It’s a referee’s job to serve the players, coaches, and most important, parents,” explained Chad Chalmers. “These referees need to stop being such entitled little snowflakes, strap their bullet-proof vests back on and get back out there for the good of my children.”
As part of the effort to convince Pleasonton to bring back youth sports, the Chalmers have created a web page where parents can sign up to officiate games until the city can find new professional referees. Volunteers will be required to undergo 16 hours of training, pay $300 in fees, pass a background check, sign a liability waiver and be prepared to devote a minimum of 14 hours each weekend to officiating duties.
Though the Chalmers say they are “too busy” to volunteer, they’re confident that members of the community will step up to “save youth sports in Pleasanton.”