Front the Pressbox: ‘The Thankless Job’

I was driving around one night a few weeks ago and heard an ad playing on an area radio station. It sounded like one of those typical public-service spots.

I heard it again the other day, then again this weekend. It was an ad promoting support for our officials at sporting events. The ad referenced the difficulty of keeping good people in the referee fellowship. The narrator lamented the fact that a lot of first-time refs bail out after the first year.

They talk about how putting up with verbal abuse from fans isn’t worth it to many of them. Okay, let’s be honest. Ever since we decided to post an independent arbiter to oversee competition, fans have used refs as a verbal punching bag. Some of the barbs are really bad and some of the people are relentless.

A year hasn’t gone by where, at least once in a sports season, someone has been escorted from the premises for bad behavior and deservedly so.

The point of the ad is that these refs often drive long distances, after working all day, to call a three-hour football game, two basketball games or a baseball doubleheader, and do so for a pittance.

Nobody gets rich being a high school official.

Yes, through process of elimination, there are some bad officials out there. In nearly half a century of covering ballgames, I’ve seen the nitpicky zebras, the ones who are overbearing and want to control everything and ones who just can’t shake the rabbit ears. Those folks are few and far between, but they are out there.

So let’s examine what these folks have to go through. They drive, often a long way, after working all day, call the games, deal with jeers and barbs, and in some cases, a misguided parent or fan who wants to take his/her vitriol to the next level. It’s a thankless job that doesn’t pay exceptionally well.

But these guys go through the courses, the training and the protocol to get certified. You just can’t jump into officiating.

Many of the people I know who get into it love it. And they do it because they were former athletes and this is a way to stay close to competition. The sad thing is that they do it for the kids on the field or the floor and for very little gratitude. It is, indeed, a thankless job.

Keep in mind that these folks are human. They make mistakes. Most good officials will tell the coach, the player, even the fan, that they blew a call. I’ve seen some class-act officials make bad calls. Just like errors and turnovers for the players, mistakes are part of the game.

When you consider everything these people have to go through, who in their right mind would want to get into such a racket?

People, human beings who love the game and want the kids to have an opportunity to compete.

Maybe we need to think about the human aspect of it next time we see a game … before we scare off officials.

Jim Steele is a correspondent for Magic Valley Publishing and the host of The Pressbox, which airs 4-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday on WRJB 95.9 FM, in Camden.

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