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.
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.
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 ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. 10 comments