The number of high school officials in Ohio is dwindling.
The total number in the state is down nearly 11% since the 2010-11 school year — a drop of almost 1,800, according to the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
A lack of younger replacements for older refs accounts for part of the decrease, but the major reason is the amount of abuse a high school official or umpire might take during or after a game.
For a job that is done for little pay, there is little incentive to continue doing mostly thankless work. It comes as no surprise then that the three sports that have lost the most officials are the ones where fans can voice their displeasure in close proximity of them.
Basketball leads the way, having lost 987 officials from 2010-11 to 2018-19. Softball and baseball are next, down 766 and 753, respectively, from 2010-11 to 2017-18.
Steps are being taken slow the decrease and curtail poor parent and fan behavior.
In January, the OHSAA in conjunction with the National Federation of State High School Associations released a letter titled “Dear Mom and Dad: Cool It!” It tells parents that, “Yelling, screaming and berating the officials humiliates your child, annoys those sitting around you, embarrasses your child’s school and is the primary reason Ohio has an alarming shortage of high school officials.”
It goes on to say that “more than 75% of all high school officials say ‘adult behavior’ is the primary reason they quit.”
Another recent action aimed at minimizing or eliminating assaults on officials is a pair of bills in the Ohio House and Senate. House Bill 208 and Senate Bill 118 would make assaulting an official “while the victim is engaged in the victim’s official duties at a sports event or immediately before or after the sports event” a fifth-degree felony. Previously, that offense was only a misdemeanor. Both bills have been referred to committees as of April 30 and are still awaiting votes.
Providing this protection is an essential move to making these officials feel safer in their jobs. The games we enjoy watching and participating in could not take place without them.
While I have not witnessed a physical confrontation between an official and a fan — and believe me, I’m glad — I sincerely hope a law is soon put in place that makes people think twice about taking their frustrations out on an official in any way.
Contact this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 440-871-5797.