Before retiring from the sport a few years back I played in men’s and coed softball leagues for almost 20 years. For more than three-quarters of those 200-plus games I was the team captain and not once in that role did I ever challenge or argue with an umpire. I was understanding and accepting of their calls, even if I didn’t agree with them.
My rather accommodating view on the issue of officiating was this: They are working men trying to bring in some extra money for their families; they strive to be fair and balanced; they’re human and make mistakes; and, above all, if one call is actually going to ruin the outcome of a game, my team and I had better play harder and better so the margin between victory and defeat isn’t so tenuous.
It helps that I was raised properly by my parents to show respect and work hard, two components of good sportsmanship.
Unfortunately, too many kids playing sports today aren’t shown that sort of guidance and the parents who are supposed to be their role models offer the antithesis to my approach to referees and umpires.
To see that in all its glory attend a baseball, basketball, football, or hockey game in a developmental league or at a high school. The screams, taunts, and vulgarity that pour from the mouths of alleged adults in front of children (theirs and everyone else’s) is unsettling. Officials are put under the microscope and subjected to behavior that is uncalled for, unnecessary, and unbecoming.
Who are these parents? Are they helicopter mom and dads who are overprotective of their babies – even if their babies are 16 years of age? Are they dads who had a middling high school sports career and are now living vicariously through their spawn? Or, are they the overzealous football parents who think that their sons are worth a look by Division I schools and pro scouts?
Do the reasons even matter? No, they don’t; their actions are boorish and there’s no excuse or justification for them.
And, there’s probably no boundaries or end to them, either, as Western New York sports fans found out recently.
In a Section V girls’ basketball playoff game between Red Creek and Byron-Bergen, a Red Creek player was ejected from the game for two intentional fouls, the second of which was a disqualifying foul during which she kicked an opponent as they fell to the court. Under the rules of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, a player ejected from a game is ineligible to play in the next game, which saw Red Creek going up against Notre Dame in a postseason affair.
Any self-respecting player, coach, and school would accept that, learn from their mistakes and adjust their game plan and preparation accordingly for the next game.
Not so in this case.
Rather than doing that, Red Creek’s basketball community (an amalgamation of players, parents, coaches, and administrators) decided to contest the in-game ruling and final ruling in an almost unprecedented fashion…they took it to the courts.
Somehow, a State Supreme Court judge, obviously with nothing more important to adjudicate, ruled in favor of the Red Creek player and suspended her suspension. She was able to play in the next game. Fortunately, Red Creek got their just desserts as they were upset by Notre Dame.
What does this mean for the future of athletics in the Empire State?
Can a referee be sued for, say, affecting a kid’s future earnings or scholarships by preventing him from making the most of a potential college coach being in the stands? Can a bad strike call caught on camera cause the courts to terminate an umpire due to gross negligence? Will lawyers and judges micromanage the undertakings of every sectional leadership body? Will coaches be brought to trial for benching a player?
It sounds silly to even suggest all of that. But, the reality is what Red Creek did sounds silly. Yet, somehow, it actually happened.
Sports madness takes place at locales like Red Creek where it makes the news. But, it also in happens in its own, less-publicized way in places like Lockport where the little league umpires are berated on a regular basis. Those umpires….they are 14 years old.
“Soccer moms gone wild” sounds like it could be the name of a racy video. But, it’s not. It’s what grade school and high school athletics have come to. Things have to change. We can’t let those few vocal and now legally-creative parents ruin sportsmanship -- and sports -- for everyone else, especially the kids -- theirs and ours.
From the 12 March 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News