Officials in any sport can recite at least a handful of common refrains they’ll hear from the stands and team bench area during any given scholastic contest.
“That’s uncatchable.” “Three seconds.” “That’s a balk.” “Offside.” “Carry.” The people voicing those opinions – spectators and coaches -- are rarely correct.
Contest officials dedicate much time off the field each season to learn the rules, review video, and understand the application of the rules. Parents, players, fans and – yes – coaches, rarely do.
In an effort to educate the general public on rules nuances and gain a more positive understanding of the role officials play in interscholastic sports, the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) launched Be The Referee, a one-minute radio segment that first aired in August 2014. The initiative is going strong now in its third school year.
These messages can be heard on This Week In High School Sports, which airs on more than 85 radio stations and audio web outlets across Michigan.
“So many people sit in front of their TVs and consume hours and hours of college and pro sports programming, and then attend just a couple high school games and don’t realize there are different rules,” said MHSAA Assistant Director Mark Uyl, who heads up the MHSAA’s officials program. “This leads to frustrations for our men and women who put in so much time – unpaid time – during the year to prepare themselves for those moments. This initiative attempts to educate and inform various parties.”
The MHSAA continually seeks platforms on which to give officials their due. It’s an avocation, not a career, and the majority of the MHSAA’s officials take on officiating in their “spare” time. The program is not just about rules, either, as it illuminates the wide breadth of topics which affect contest officials. Among the topics thus far in 2016-17 have been Concussions, Preparation and Ratings.
“We’ve been talking for some time with local radio programs about promoting officiating in a way people would better understand the role of officials, and better understand rules differences between high school, college and professional sports,” said MHSAA Communications Director John Johnson.
“As we went down the road, we decided to try a 1-minute spin-off of the You make the Call type of segment that was sometimes on television,” he added. “We decided to use that as our vehicle.”
Additionally, MHSAA.com includes a Be The Referee page (http://www.mhsaa.com/Officials/Resources-Policies/Be-The-Referee) where weekly messages are archived, both in audio and text format. Stations around the state are encouraged to download the audio and air the program, and emails were sent to other state high school associations offering the service to use as they see fit.
“This will give us additional legs, and we’re hoping stations will use the spots if they have a minute they’d like to donate during local sportscasts,” Johnson said. “And, we know we are not alone in some misconceptions of officiating and misapplication of rules by those in the stands. Anyone is welcome to visit our site, download the messages and fit into their niche.”
Local Approved Officials Associations across Michigan have used the segments in meetings as appropriate, helping to spread the word. Since its inception, the Be The Referee page has received 6,750 unique visitors. Since the fall of 2016, 1,706 different readers have been to the page.
Uyl adds that the shows could attract new officials in the process.
“We hope the broadcasts can call to light some individuals who have never considered registering to become an official before, or perhaps lure back some people who left us,” Uyl said. “The exposure could attract some recruits among the listeners.
“We encourage officials across the state, and for that matter around the country, to take a look at our archives and identify some of their favorites,” Uyl said, “and pass the message along to those who need it.”