IHSAA says unruly fans, parents leading to a state-wide shortage of referees

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. —The Indiana High School Athletic Association is once again calling out parents and fans who attend high school and youth sporting events, claiming their behavior is leading to a referee shortage across the state.

The IHSAA says Indiana is dealing with a shortage of licensed referees. According to commissioner Bobby Cox, too many officials have been walking away from the job with not enough replacing them.

“The average age now is over 50 years of age. We’re not replacing those that are retiring from the game the rate that we’re losing them. And we’re not replacing them in the other end with younger officials,” he said.

Cox says the biggest contributing factor to referee loss is parents and fans.

“Subsequently the intensity of those events drive them away because they just can’t take the abuse they’re receiving,” he said.

Cox says aggressive and unruly parents and fans are leading to refs calling it quits. Now the IHSAA is targeting their behavior with a sportsmanship campaign.

“We have had issues, with fans chasing officials off the court, across the soccer pitch, off the football field…Us as adults have got to get better. These are games for kids, this is education-based athletics, this is an environment where kids are supposed to learn how to win and lose and do that with dignity and grace and respect,” Cox said.

The shortage has already resulted in negative outcomes. So far this year, Cox says two games have been canceled due to no referees present, including a football game between Shortridge and Lutheran High Schools.

“We’re getting to a critical mass,” Cox said.

In January, Cox, along with the head of the National Federation of State High School Associations penned an op-ed titled “Dear Mom and Dad: Cool It.” The op-ed referenced a survey by the National Association of Sports Officials that reported that over 75 percent of all high school officials say “adult behavior” is the primary reason they quit.

The piece also highlights that “80 percent of all young officials hang up their stripes after just two years of whistle blowing.”

The IHSAA has upped recruiting efforts to target new and younger refs, but Cox adds that the process has been difficult.

Cox says as part of their recruiting efforts, the IHSAA is looking to people like first responders and national guardsmen to help fill positions with the hope that the nature of their chosen line of work will make them better suited for handling unruly fans.

Formore information on how to become an IHSAA referee you can click here.

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