Those basketball officials are big boys and girls

Those basketball officials are big boys and girls

The latest media craze has been to spotlight how badly fans treat game officials at high school sporting events, particularly basketball.

Columns are being written and shared on social media sites on a daily basis, and everybody clicks that they like them.

Most of these pro-official pieces followed an editorial distributed to media outlets by Karissa Niehoff and Mark Beckman. Niehoff is the executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, while Beckman is the executive director of the Montana High School Association.

The headline for the story read: “Dear Mom and Dad: Cool it.”

That editorial makes some great points. When you act like an idiot at your son or daughter’s games, then you are embarrassing your child’s school and your child.

You shouldn’t do that.

Fan behavior at games is a reason why we are seeing a national shortage on basketball officials, and officials of pretty much every other sport, for that matter.

Here is the bigger question, though: When did we get so sensitive?

These pile-on stories in newspapers, on the internet and on television lecturing everyone on how to act at sporting events following the insightful editorial by Niehoff and Beckman are insulting. Insulting to the officials, that is.

A recent survey by the National Association of officials shows that 75 percent of all high school officials say that “adult behavior” is the primary reason they quit. Further, 80 percent of all young officials bag it after just two years, presumably for the same reason.

This is great. We want to get rid of the weak officials.

If you cannot handle a few knucklehead moms, dads, aunts, uncles and grandparents in the crowd, then officiating was not for you in the first place.

Neither is the fast-food industry, or any other field where you work is scrutinized by the public.

If you are considering hanging up your stripes because people are yelling at you when you officiate, then you’ve got two options: Toughen up or hit the bricks.

I once saw a fan call Mike Anderson a “talking pile of pigs—,” and that was when his parents drove all the way down from Michigan to see him referee the game. And did Andy Cry? No.

And do you know why? Because there’s no crying in basketball. There’s no crying in basketball. No crying.

You could call the veteran officials like Anderson just about every name in the book, and it will not get a rise out of them. They know that’s part of the game, and they soldier on because they know we need officials to play the game.

They also got paid. Not as much as they should, but enough to keep them going back for more.

Some of these new take-it-easy-on-the-refs stories aren’t exactly fair to the fans, either.

One spot broadcast on the Montana Television Network about the abuse the officials take unfairly painted at least one Butte Central fan in a bad light.

The backdrop of the story showed video of crowds during the Western A Divisional tournament in Hamilton. The short segment twice showed the same BC fan yelling and pointing.

The video showed no context at all. It did not show what the fan was yelling at.

For all we know, the fan was pointing out a candy bar wrapper that made its way onto the court, and not the officials. Yes, he looked very angry, but a candy bar wrapper on the floor is nothing to be taken lightly.

It could cause a player to slip and take a nasty fall.

Oh, and the fan could have been yelling at a really bad call, and that is OK, too. Sometimes you’ve just got to yell at a bad call, just like you have to yell when your order gets messed up at the drive through.

Sure, we should be nicer to the officials. That is a no-brainer. But you know what? We’re not going to.

This particular point of time is the nicest we’re going to be to officials for the rest of eternity. Almost everything has been getting worse with time, whether it’s customer service, school lunches or helicopter dads.

Also, have been paying attention to the current political environment in the United States? We’re not very nice people.

We were nicer last year than we are this year, and we’re nicer this year than we’ll be next year.

We need more people take on the job of being high school officials, but they have to be the right kind of man or woman. If they are the kind of people who will only work if all the fans are on their best behavior, then they are not the kind of people we want to take on the tremendously difficult job.

Before every game at state tournaments in Montana, a message is played over the loudspeakers about sportsmanship. Among other things, it says booing and taunting of officials will not be tolerated.

Usually, that is when the booing and taunting begins — by people who clicked the little heart in support of their official friend who just yesterday shared a be-nice-to-officials story on Facebook, too.

The booing or yelling at the officials is kept up on every single call. That is because no fan wants a fair game. Fans want all the calls to go their way.

So, officials can’t win.

This, however, is not a new phenomenon. We have been yelling at officials for as long as we have been playing games. The officials knew what they were getting into when they signed up.

And, get this, most of them can handle it.

The good ones learn to tone out the morons and move on. Or, at least they learn to not react to it.

When the game is over, they run to the locker room and laugh at the things they heard as they get ready to go home and forget about the game.

Coaches, players and fans cannot do that.

Coaches wake up in cold sweats in the middle of the offseason about the games they should have won months earlier. They toss and turn while the official who made the game-changing call sleeps like a baby.

High school coaches get fired based on the performance of teenage boys and girls. Almost every coach gets fired at some point.

The great Tom Landry was even fired.

When is the last time you read about an official getting fired?

Tim Donaghy went to prison for fixing pro basketball games as an official, and I’m not even sure if he was ever officially fired by the NBA.

I know a lot of high school basketball officials, and I can honestly say that I have never heard one of them cry about the fans yelling at them. Not one.

They laugh at them. They might even get mad at them. But they never cry. They just move onto the next game and do the best they can.

So, we don’t need the media crying for them either.

Not even if someone calls them a talking pile of pigs—.

— Bill Foley, who is not cut out to be a basketball official, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. 7 comments

Posts Carousel

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *


  • Marty R
    March 12, 2019, 3:32 pm

    You crack me up!

  • Mike McLean
    March 12, 2019, 8:27 pm

    Good article

  • Kara H
    March 13, 2019, 8:29 am

    Kudos to you for writing this-Thank you!

  • PR
    March 13, 2019, 12:18 pm

    Mike Anderson is one of the classiest referees I’ve seen. I’m always impressed to see how he handles the garbage that comes with the job.
    Great perspective Foles.

  • Ken
    March 13, 2019, 1:50 pm

    You’re an idiot. Try officiating a few high school games where every fan thinks they know the rules, but don’t. I officiate high school and college basketball and have been for the past 11 years. Sportsmanship has gone out the window. Spectators have one job: cheer for their team. That’s it. Get a clue, moron.

    • Don@Ken
      March 14, 2019, 12:55 pm


      Do you see the irony in calling Foley a moron while complaining about officials being call such names? I think you missed the point of the article, which wasn’t to defend such behavior but to say good officials ignore such behavior. While fans certainly cross the line often, a good official is oblivious to it. An official who is reacting to the crowd is not cut out to be an official. I know I’d have a tough time doing so and admire the officials who can do it.

    • Bill Foley@Ken
      March 14, 2019, 9:22 pm

      A few of things. Ken completely misinterpreted this column. I was complimenting the officials who put up with the silly abuse and name calling while trying to get a few laughs. I never heard anyone call Mike Anderson a talking pile of pigs—. That was borrowed from an iconic movie line. Ken, though, apparently doesn’t have thick enough skin to be one of those guys I was complimenting. They are big boy enough to handle it. Ken clearly is not. By calling me an idiot and a moron because he doesn’t like my judgement call, Ken shows that he is no better than the clowns who yell at officials from the stands. Since he did it with a fake email and without using his real first and last name, Ken also appears to be a coward.


Print this Page

Print Friendly, PDF & Email