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Murray Journal

Referees say respect, good manners win the game

Feb 26, 2019 11:14AM ● By Greg James

The last week of January, basketball officials wore blue arm bands to point out the need for improved sportsmanship from coaches and athletes but especially from fans and parents. (Greg James/City Journals)

By Greg James |  gregj@mycityjournals.com 

Basketball referees around the state wore blue arm bands the last week of January to emphasize good sportsmanship to fans, players and coaches. They’ve witnessed poor sportsmanship rearing its ugly head at many games. 

One seasoned referee said after finishing a hotly contested game a group of fans followed him to his car. The entire way the fans made it clear they thought he was not good at his job in loud overtones. He was threatened and eventually, he called the police to make sure he could get home safely.

“I did what I should not have,” said the referee who wished to remain anonymous. “I turned to the fans as they were heckling me and said, ‘This is why there will come a time when there will not be anyone here to referee these games.’ I had enough that night.”

The Utah High School Activities Association has seen a 2 percent decline in the number of referees this year. Statewide referee associations declared Jan. 28 through Feb. 2 as sportsmanship week. The participating officials wore blue wrist bands to remind fans, players and coaches of the need for civility and respect in the game.

“This has become an ongoing concern,” Utah County referee association President Stuart Dean said. “We have had a lot more situations with fans, parents and coaches that have arisen because of a deterioration in sportsmanship. Unfortunately, this is problematic not only here but nationally.”

In a National Association of Officials (naso.org) survey, 57 percent of respondents believe sportsmanship is getting worse. Good behavior is more than interaction with the officials. It comes from how opponents are treated and what the cheering is like. According the same survey, 59 percent of poor sportsmanship is from the parents and fans.

“I generally do not think the players and coaches have had a big issue,” Dean said. “It is really with fans and parents. They have taken a license to abuse officials. That is where this has gotten out of hand.” 

A recent study by the Stanford Children's Hospital emphasized things parents can do to encourage better sportsmanship. It includes avoid arguing, playing fair, following directions, respecting the other team, encouraging the team and respecting the officials’ decisions.

“We take our role seriously,” Dean said. “There is testing, evaluations and orientation. We start the year by going to rules clinics. We have meetings five times during the season. We talk about how we can become better professionals. How can we handle things on the court. We work hard at that.” 

Dean said the best officials are good communicators. 

“I was working with an official when I was up-and-coming, and I remember my partner telling a coach, ‘I am sorry if I missed that call. I will work hard to get it right next time.’ Those are things that make our role better,” Dean said. “We are down 400 officials from six years ago. We have seen the impact in the sub-varsity games.”

This is the start of something that could continue to happen every year. The UHSAA has received inquiries from schools and administrators hoping to participate more fully.

“This is a call to draw attention to the issue,” Dean said. “By and large, the coaches in this state are very good. They are very competitive, but they know what their job is. This has been a cultural shift. There has been times I can’t believe what I'm hearing. It crosses the line.”