Limping ref falls prey to Facebook phonies

Limping ref falls prey to Facebook phonies

The white-haired referee struggled as he made his way up and down the basketball court Saturday afternoon.

He was moving slowly enough that, at times, his two partners had to cover for him on their rotation as Butte High’s girls’ basketball team took on Kalispell Glacier in a Western AA game at the Richardson Gym.

A lifetime of officiating had clearly taken its toll. The referee was running on two knees that are shot from his years of running up and down the field and court.

He can feel the pain from each time he squatted behind a catcher to call balls and strikes.

He did not make much money doing it. Rather, he did it so the young athletes could play the games.

The next game the official suffers through will be his last, he said. He will call it a career after relying on cortisone injections to get through this last season.

“Hey ref, how ’bout a little hustle?” a fan yells from the crowd.

It was not clear if it was a Bulldog or a Wolfpack fan who made the crack, but a few fans from both sides shared in the laugh.

Later on, a toddler ran across the court, forcing officials to blow their whistles to stop the game.

“He’s faster than you,” a fan yells at the white-haired official.

Again, a few on both sides find it funny.

I could not help but to wonder about the fan who felt compelled to ridicule the older official. Was he one of the many people who have shared stories on Facebook about the national youth sports official crisis?

How about those who laughed at the remarks? Surely, some of them shared those stories.

Officials for high school sports are going away, and the main reason is the way they are treated by fans.

As that fan was heckling the white-haired official, a couple other officials were down the hallway in Butte High’s old gym, refereeing four straight sub-varsity games without a break.

They did that because there were no other officials. If they did not step up, the games would have been canceled.

On Facebook, we treat officials like they are Marines returning home from war. We thank them for their service and hold them up as people to be respected.

In reality, we treat youth sports officials worse than a substitute teacher in a study hall.

You’re terrible!

This is ridiculous!

Call ’em both ways!

You’re a cheater!

About a year ago, the media jumped on the bandwagon of the poor treatment of officials following an editorial distributed by Karissa Niehoff of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

With that, the Facebook sharing began as TV reporters and newspaper writers went all out with stories and editorials about the poor treatment of officials.

As the season came to a close, we at least had some hope that this year would be better. Social media shares were bringing this problem to light.

Hashtag warriors were here to save the day.

However, it is now perfectly clear that too many people who shared, liked and commented on those stories were not doing it for the officials. They were doing it to make themselves look better.

Like everything else on Facebook, it was just a show.

Fans are worse this year than they were last year. Believe it or not, next year is probably going to be even worse.

The first quarter of a high school basketball game, which is just 8 minutes, usually sees at least a dozen incidents of officials being called cheaters, either directly or indirectly.

So, it is hard to blame those officials for walking away.

An even bigger problem is getting people to want to officiate in the future. More than making good officials quit, this ridiculous fan behavior is deterring the good officials of tomorrow.

Once upon a time, officials were held in high regard in the real world. When the playing days came to an end for young athletes, many wanted to stay involved by officiating.

While some still do, a great many more would not touch a whistle with a 10-foot pole. They are not blind or deaf. They are watching and listening as you degrade those refs.

I have long been a proponent for fan licenses being required at basketball games. To get a license, each fan would need to pass a basic rules test.

Fans who pass the test would have to know that there is no actual rule called “over the back.” They would also have to demonstrate that they can accurately count to three seconds — using the time-tested Mississippi method.

These licenses, which would have to be worn around the neck on a lanyard, would have to be renewed every year so everyone would know of any rule changes.

When fans get way out of hand — like the Missoula Hellgate follower who was thrown out for his verbal and person assault of an official while his team was up by more than 30 points — they should be banned from attending high school sporting events for a year.

First offense.

Fans like the Butte High supporter who told that fan to shut up should be praised.

While that incident nearly led to a fist fight in the middle of the stands of the Richards Gym, this was an example of how bad fans should be treated.

Bad fans should be told to shut up. People should not sit by silently while a fellow citizen is verbally assaulted.

If you are screaming “over the back,” “call ’em both ways,” and “that’s terrible” over and over, you should be told to shut your trap by the other people who paid for a ticket.

This sort of behavior is not tolerated at McDonalds. So, we should not have to put up with it at a high school sporting event.

The incident involving the Hellgate fan was about as bad as we have seen in recent years, but it certainly did come with a silver lining.

At least we now know we have one Butte High fan who can live up to his Facebook post in real life.

It is just too bad he was not there when the white-haired referee limped his way up and down the court.

— Bill Foley, who wouldn’t touch a whistle with a 10-foot pole, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on Email him at Follow him at 10 comments

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  • Jim rivello
    February 18, 2020, 12:48 pm

    Great article I think all parents & coaches should officiate a couple of games in the sport they are going to watch or oversee they would have a different perspective

  • Chris Eamon
    February 18, 2020, 7:26 pm

    Right on target. We should all walk a mile in their shoes – We might see things in a new light. –

    • Blake@Chris Eamon
      February 18, 2020, 7:58 pm

      As an official, I fully agree with this article. Sad situation in sports and the kids will be the ones who suffer when there are not enough officials. Something needs to change.

  • Emma Cohen
    February 18, 2020, 8:31 pm

    Excellent article. In every sports event this year we’ve attended we’ve seen parents verbally abusing players on the other team and officials. Yet I don’t see any of those parents hauling themselves down to volunteer each weekend. What’s really sad is these parents seem to be living through their kids sports. It’s a kids sport. You left high school yourself a long time ago (even if you don’t act like it) so you must not have a lot going on in life if screaming abuse at 15 year old high school kids from a town within your own state (where you probably have friends and family) or at an official — is the highlight of your weekend. Parents need to get a life. Model the behavior they want their kids to learn and try having more maturity than the kids on the court. And if they can’t they should be banned by coaches. Trashy behavior gives us a bad name. If you want kids to learn how to have good manners and sportsmanship then you have to show it yourself. And the reason people don’t speak up is because the folks screaming abuse are usually close to acting out (or many are known to be drunk even at the kids match) so no one wants to get punched by speaking out. It’s time the school and club coaches across all sports across this town came together to focus on civic conduct and mature parent behavior at all kids sports events. Otherwise more and more parents will hold their kids back from sports simply because they don’t want them associating with the trashy behavior that comes with it.

  • Ann Marie Carson
    February 18, 2020, 10:36 pm

    As a retired teacher, former coach and VB official, I thank you for this article. Bullying isn’t just a student problem!

  • Jim Asma
    February 19, 2020, 12:37 pm

    Article hits almost every reason it is difficult to be a good ref today. Very sad & tragic, as the shortage of good refs is growing & the renewals due 4 the 3 clearances required, is coming due starting in Aug., 20., will only accelerate it.
    I can relate to this white ref, as I too tried to get theru a BB season with both knees needing replacement, but only faced ridicule , including from some other refs.
    I even had to toss a teams Doctor for his constant complaints, as I guess he thought he was "entitled" due his position.
    Guess what, I am (was) doing this for the love of the game, and all its trappings, and money was no object.( Note: not all refs work for this reason). I am a CPA full time& was disappointed to be treated in this way. Maybe this doctor would have thought different if he knew I was also a professional?

    • Not for money@Jim Asma
      February 19, 2020, 8:07 pm

      I’m also a ref and I think it’s funny to hear the hillbilly parents who come out the cabin 3 months a year just so they can yell 3 seconds or over the back for 4 quarters.I respect all refs and the parents who smile and cheer there kids on .If you cant follow the rules in the sport keep chopping that wood for your cabin and stay there.


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