Ryan Clarke

In college intramurals, I was thrown out of two basketball games for arguing with officials. I’m not proud of it. Regardless of how I was feeling that day or if I had a point about the missed calls, it was the wrong thing to do.

Officiating is a hard job. It was hard for the minimally trained college students reffing intramurals, and it is even harder for the veteran officials at high school games. There is a shortage of officials in the state of Oregon — a subject I will explore in an upcoming enterprise piece — and a lack of sportsmanship by players, coaches and parents does not help.

Every official I’ve spoken with cites sportsmanship as one of the reasons why many officials leave the job and why it is so hard to recruit new officials. Nobody wants to be yelled at for two hours or more when they are just trying to do their job.

“We miss calls. We will never claim to be perfect,” Mike Smith, head of the Central Oregon Basketball Officials Association, told me.

“But when we do get something wrong, it’s treated like the end of the world.”

Basketball is a particularly confrontational environment for officials. The court serves as an intimate venue for a sometimes individualistic sport, and that breeds conflict. One missed call — or a call that someone disagrees with — and a crowd can erupt in jeers that they know will be heard by the official. It is not hard for players or coaches to get in an official’s face or make their voices heard, either.

Other sports can be just as bad. I’ve been to plenty of high school soccer, football and baseball games over the years — both as a fan and a reporter — and I have heard everything from your run-of-the-mill complaint to a racist tirade directed at an official. This type of behavior, no matter the severity, should not be tolerated.

“You’ve got to look at your officials and realize that they’re humans,” Oregon Athletic Officials Association executive director Debi Hanson told me. “It’s really easy to yell at somebody you don’t know.”

I get where the frustration comes from. Sports are an emotional thing — especially for competitive athletes and parents who want to see their children succeed. A lot of time and money is invested in youth and high school sports if you are a parent, so who the hell is this referee to try to interfere with that?

The challenge for parents — and this goes for young athletes and their coaches, too — is to play by the Golden Rule: treat others how one wants to be treated. Sportsmanship does not start and end with shaking hands with the other team after the game. It is a consistent standard to hold oneself to in all facets of athletic competition. This includes respecting officials, even if one disagrees with them.

A referee is seldom the reason why a team loses a game or why an athlete had a bad performance. To posit otherwise is to ignore 95 percent of the game and season, when one is not thinking about the officials. If something goes wrong, blaming the officials is an easy cop-out, but it is a bad precedent to set among teammates, between coaches and players, and between parents and their children.

I admit to being part of the problem in my playing days. I now believe, after speaking with officials around Central Oregon, that it is on us to change the culture.

Next time you are on the field or in the stands, and you feel this burning desire to let the ref have it, put yourself in his or her shoes. And while you are at it, thank that official after the game. Sportsmanship can go a long way.

— Reporter: 541-383-0307, rclarke@bendbulletin.com