The abuse of youth sports referees has become increasingly worse over the past few years. I have been a soccer referee for over 15 years and I referee games from youth Under 10 to Division II NCAA and cannot speak for other sports officials’ experiences here on the Big Island. I am mainly discussing youth sports up to and including high school.
I have personally been verbally abused by players, coaches and spectators. Those same persons have terroristicly threatened myself and fellow referees. There have been threats of physical violence as well. In a Big Island championship high school game last year, a parent threatened to break a referee’s neck.
Just this past week a mother of a 14-and-under team posted on social media about a referee that she thought was not doing a good job. In her post she wants to “dump a five-gallon bucket of pig slop” into his gear bag, even posting a picture of him and his bag. Of course, others pile on by posting they know where to get some or “need a delivery?”
What these people fail to understand is that these actions have consequences. This referee, rightfully so, wants nothing to do with Big Island soccer anymore. Our very small referee community may have lost another of its members to referee abuse. Some might say it is a good thing, since in their opinion he is not a good referee. However, it is just that — an opinion.
I have seen grown men and women verbally abusing 12- and 13-year-old referees, who are trying to learn a new skill under the guidance of experienced referees, during games. These youth referees rarely last one or two seasons and state very specifically that the reason for not returning is abuse by coaches and spectators.
Something not comprehended by these people are two very important yet overlooked points. First is that there are many requirements in the laws of the game for a soccer match to happen and spectators are not one of them. There is nothing that states spectators are needed for a game to be played. In a Jan. 9 boys high school game over on Kauai, a fight happened that had spectators involved. The game was terminated and replayed later with no spectators in attendance and police presence to keep anyone from entering the stadium.
Second, and most importantly, there is no requirement for referees to be at these games other than their own desire to do so. We are not a public utility or governmental agency required to provide a service. We do so by our own choice. Many do so out of a love for the game, a desire to help in the community, because we have that skill set, or simply to help young soccer players become better players and individuals.
Two years ago on Maui a uniformed police officer came onto a soccer field after a high school game and started yelling at the referees. The Maui Interscholastic League did not support the referees’ request for some action to be taken to support and protect them from these type of incidents. This year not one of the previous year’s Maui high school referees returned to the fields due to the lack of support or protection from abuse. Over on Oahu, the abuse has gotten so bad that many high school games have police presence.
Referees spend time away from jobs, friends and family to work these games. Sometimes in the sun all day or in the rain at night. While there is payment sometimes associated for being there it ranges from $20 to $50 depending on the age of the youth players and the referees position on the field. This is by no means a money-making endeavor for most youth sports referees. It borders on just simply breaking even with driving, uniforms, equipment, dues and training costs. Not to mention the costs if a referee gets injured on the field.
Most referees I know spend time studying the rules to get certified and to understand the game and game management. They train to meet the physical demands of the game to provide the best possible experience for the players.
Simply stated: If there are no referees, there is no game. If the continued abuse does not lessen or stop there will be no one willing to spend time away from their family and jobs to be abused.
You can Google “youth sports referee abuse” and find article after article about this issue from all over the country. But that is not supposed to be how we live here in Hawaii. It saddens me to think that all of this happens in the state that is supposed to have aloha.
Bob Bischoff is a resident of Waikoloa and a youth referee.