Among the factors that have contributed to the decline in officials at the high school level is poor sportsmanship from coaches, parents and other spectators. As a result, state high school associations are faced with formulating procedures for controlling crowds at athletic events.
Two former contest officials who now handle these issues in state association offices presented a workshop on sportsmanship and crowd control at the NFHS Summer Meeting in Chicago a few months ago.
Larry White, executive director of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA), and Robert Holloway, assistant director of the Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA), used the NJSIAA’s “Crowd Control Procedures for Athletic Events” as the foundation for their workshop presentation. The two former officials emphasized “the prevention of crowd disturbances at our sporting events, efficient crowd control maintenance, and strict discipline among administrators, coaches, players and spectators.”
“It was revealed just recently at the National Association of Sports Officials Conference in New Orleans that the number one reason that officials are getting out of the job is because of sportsmanship from fans and coaches,” Holloway said. “It’s just evolved to something different now. Fans today feel so entitled. It’s become much more adversarial than in the past.”
White said that crowd hostility is often a reflection of the angst between schools, coaches or players. The procedures note that “a crowd faced with disorganized, confused events is more apt to become hostile.” The NJSIAA strives to prevent school hostility, while working to more efficiently conduct the events themselves.
The officials presented the following recommendations, which have been developed to assist schools in efficiently managing interscholastic contests:
Postgame procedures before the game consist of 39 items, ranging from developing a written operation plan to having a plan in place for the loss of power during evening events. Included in the latter procedure is an exit plan for teams and spectators that should be reviewed with coaches, security staff, police and custodians.
As is detailed with postgame procedures, home team administrators are encouraged to provide an escort for officials to their locker room. Additionally, when deemed necessary, administrators should provide a police escort for officials to their cars, as well as for buses to the city/town limit.
Not to be lost in the procedures are recommendations for cheerleaders, police, coaches, players, school reporters, media, spectators and officials. Since coaches usually are the top influencers of player and crowd behavior, it is recommended that coaches approach officials in a “businesslike and professional” manner. It is suggested that a “coach must exercise self-control and realize that the official sees through impartial and unbiased eyes. Coaches must familiarize themselves with the proper procedure for requesting a conference with an official.”
White has been involved in athletics since age 8 when he was in Little League. That experience was prolonged as a college baseball player before giving back to athletics as an official. In that time, he has seen fan passion evolve to the point that the spirit of game has begun to get lost.
“People have gone to another level when rooting on the home team. I just think that’s part of the reason most states, if not all, have some kind of crowd-control policy or procedures that they give to member schools,” White said. “Thirty years ago, I never heard of an official being attacked or anything like that, and now we’ve had some officials throughout the country – not necessarily at the high school level – that have been killed. That’s such a tragedy because we’ve seemed to have forgotten that sports are about games. They’re playing a game.”
In New Jersey, as part of legislation centered around protecting officials, Chapter 6 of the Public Laws of 1995 stipulates that any assault on a coach, manager or sports official is punishable as a third-degree crime. Any injuries could result in a three- to five-year prison sentence with a maximum fine of $7,500. When no injuries are suffered, the aggravated assault would lead to it being a fourth-degree crime, punishable up to 18 months with a $7,500 fine.
“Something that Robert and I tried to emphasize in our presentation was to be proactive,” White said. “In all possible cases – a big game, rivalry game – make sure you have enough school staff there. If you have to, hire the police. Do all the things necessary to try to make sure the game gets played and nothing extracurricular arises.”
“There are sometimes when the administrations don’t step up like they need to when handling some situations for our officials,” Holloway added. “At times, the administrators sit back and let the situations escalate before they intervene.”
In Mississippi, Holloway detailed a yellow card instituted by the MHSAA that goes beyond the bounds of a soccer pitch. In times when fans fail to calm their demeanor, Holloway said officials working any of the MHSAA’s 16 sports can issue a yellow card. If a fan continues his/her abrasive actions, an official can eject them from the facility.
Efforts to stop escalating situations provide encouragement for prospective officials. In addition to procedures in place by the NJSIAA and others, state associations are getting into the schools with posters and other recruitment materials to find other individuals looking to give back to their sports just as Holloway and White. As White discovered, continued crowd-control efforts can do nothing but help reach the next generation.
“We’ve often asked student-athletes – especially our female athletes – do you think about becoming an official,” White said. “It’s amazing, but quite often the answer has been, ‘No. We don’t want to become officials because we don’t want to have to take the abuse and language that they do to the officials.’ I often turn around and ask them that if they feel this way, why would they do this to the officials who officiate their games? Their response is often because their parents or other fans also act this way.”
Individuals interested in applying to become an official are encouraged to visit www.highschoolofficials.com. Application information is redirected to the respective member state association of the applicant.
To learn more about the NJSIAA’s “Crowd Control Procedures for Athletic Events,” please visit www.nfhs.org/media/1019407/ workshop-36.pdf.
Cody Porter is a graphic arts/communications assistant in the NFHS Publications/ Communications Department.