This week, swallow the insults, and instead show some love for youth sports officials

YORK DISPATCH EDITORIAL BOARD
There's a severe shortage of youth sports officials in Pennsylvania.
  • The PIAA has launched "officials appreciation week" across the state.
  • Folks are encouraged to show their support for officials in a variety of ways.
  • There's currently a serious shortage of youth sports officials.

Something must change.

For far too long, abusing youth sports officials has become an accepted form of American behavior.

It starts with coaches loudly, and sometimes profanely, questioning call after call.

It continues with parents and other fans raining down verbal assaults from the stands.

Naturally, when the kids on the field see the adults acting insufferably toward the men and women in stripes, they figure it’s OK for them to join in, too.

It’s all just part of the game, right?

Well, if the officials don’t soon start getting the respect they deserve, there may not be any games. That’s because there won’t be enough officials to enforce the rules of play.

In case you don’t know it, there’s a serious shortage of youth sports officials. It borders on a crisis. With the abuse they take, it's hardly surprising that officials are quitting in droves or that folks are reluctant to join their ranks.

Show officials some love: That’s why it’s long past time to start showing officials some appreciation for the incredibly difficult job they do for rather poor compensation.

That’s also why we fully support the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association’s decision to launch “officials appreciation week” across the state.

More:PIAA launches 'officials appreciation week' as it deals with shortage of referees

The PIAA recently sent all schools a memo about the week and offered suggestions on actions the schools could take to show some love for officials. They include: making announcements at school; introducing officials on public-address systems at the fields and stadiums; providing parking spaces, beverages and snacks to officials; having each athlete individually thank each official before the start or at the conclusion of contests; and inviting spouses of officials to games and providing complimentary tickets.

We support each and every one of those ideas. We'd also like to see game-site managers become more assertive in enforcing sportsmanslike behavior from fans and coaches.

The Spring Grove incident: In light of what happened at Spring Grove’s Papermakers Stadium last Friday night, those actions take on even added significance.

In case you haven’t heard, at the conclusion of Friday’s Spring Grove-Dover football game, an official was attacked on the field by a member of the “Spring Grove football family.”

More:Football official attacked Friday night following Spring Grove game

Obviously, such behavior is reprehensible, but unfortunately, it’s not all that surprising. That’s because when the verbal abuse is constant, loud and ugly, it becomes sadly easy for that abuse to cross the line from verbal to physical.

Make it a priority: So, let’s take a step back this week and not just take it easy on the officials, but go out of our way to show them some appreciation. Make it a priority, and not just for this week, but for every week going forward.

It must start with the coaches, school administrators and parents. They are the most influential folks in this struggle. If the kids see them making a concerted effort to respect the officials, the youngsters are much more likely to follow suit.

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It’s important to remember that officials are our friends and neighbors, with spouses, children and other loved ones. They are not simply anonymous, unfeeling robots in striped shirts.

Instead of being a critic, become an official: So, the next time you get the urge to curse out an official from your high perch in the stands, remember the person you are berating may have a spouse, child or parent sitting within earshot. How would you feel if the roles were reversed?

Even better, if you really feel the officials are doing such a horrible job, don't just site there. Instead, do something about it. Become an official yourself. There’s obviously a desperate need.

After a couple of games, you’ll quickly realize the job isn’t so easy. You’ll also quickly realize that the folks in stripes deserve our utmost respect.