GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan High School Athletic Association needs statewide officials for both junior and high school sports.
Geoff Kimmerly with MHSAA said they have lost hundreds of voluntary referees and umpires over the past decade.
“The challenge we hear most from our officials, and especially those who chose not to come back, is how tough it is to work with adult spectators: be it parents or fans who don’t have kids participating,” Kimmerly said.
He added that while passion from fans is always welcome, rude remarks and jeers should not be tolerated.
“It can get pretty personal out there,” he said. “It’s one thing to have fans who know the rules better than the officials on the floor or on the field. But when it actually gets personal, when we have things like people being followed out to their cars (it’s too far).”
In 2012, MHSAA had 10,696 officials refereeing games across the state. A decade later, its numbers dropped to 8,128. Kimmel said they typically see their highest numbers when the economy is bad, but their current low numbers are tied directly to an increase in fan harassment.
“I think it’s elevated every year,” seasoned referee TJ Restau said. “And for me, it’s been getting that way for the last 10. You can see a change. It’s obviously gotten a little bit more frisky from the crowd, more involvement.”
Many times, fans confuse collegiate rules with high school rules. Restau said you must have thick skin to referee specific sports where fans are closer to gameplay, like basketball, volleyball and baseball.
“What’s most disturbing is when you have new officials, most of them start out in the youth environment,” Restau said. “That seems to be where, to be honest with you, most of your problems are at, which is unfortunate.”
In years past, when games had to be postponed due to weather the lack of depth on MHSAA’s bench has left teams scrambling.
“It’s been a worry the last few years that if we have storms wipe out the majority of the games on Friday night we would really be in trouble the rest of that weekend,” Kimmerly said. “Because a lot of our officials… also work at the collegiate level. So they already have games set up for Saturday.”
Officials are trained through MHSAA and paid for each game. Restau challenged fans who think they can do better to step up and become a referee.
“You have every right to sign up for the MHSAA and become a registered official in a sport you may like,” he said.
Registration for the fall season is open for 10 more days, after that a late application fee would apply.