TEXAS VIEW: Texas youth sports referees have had it with abuse

THE POINT: New policy by state sports officials group is a touchdown.

Referees for Texas youth sports are throwing the penalty flag on abuse.

They’ve had it up to here with verbal tirades, sometimes laced with racist and sexist slurs, and even physical assault by parents, coaches and players.

Now the Texas Association of Sports Officials is saying enough is enough. We do, too.

Just in time for Friday night lights and other back to school sports, the association has adopted a new policy aimed at holding schools accountable for abuse by their fans, staff and athletes.

The organization could refuse to send officials to any school that receives three valid incident reports of abuse throughout the entire year and across all seven sports it officiates — football, basketball, soccer, softball, baseball, volleyball and water polo. If a school doesn’t adequately address “their negative culture of abuse” after being warned, the association will red card it. No more officials for home games. You’re outta here!

The reason for the new policy: “to combat the drastically increasing rate of excessive verbal and physical abuse” officials receive for perceived bad calls, the association said recently in announcing its policy.

This newspaper and others across the country have reported some of these sad incidents. Here are just a few: In 2015, an assistant coach at San Antonio’s Jay High School pleaded guilty to assault for allegedly telling two of his football players to tackle a referee. In 2020, an Edinburg High School player was charged with assault after similarly tackling a referee. And in April, a freshman soccer player at Fort Worth O.D. Wyatt knocked an official to the ground as her coach ran onto the field to dispute a call, then refused to go back to the sideline.

Less serious but still intolerable, referees are routinely screamed at, personally insulted, threatened, even sometimes followed to their cars after games by angry parents or coaches.

No wonder there is a statewide shortage of officials these days. According to TASO, abuse is the main reason why they quit. This is an especially bad trend given that the average age of officials is rising along with the number of high schools in the state. TASO says more than half of the state’s officials are 50 or older. They’re paid just $50-$100 per game.

The University Interscholastic League has regulations and penalties against abuse of officials for schools and athletes. And of course there’s always the criminal justice system for recourse.

Still, TASO’s new policy sends an even stronger message to schools — if you don’t have a culture of respect for officials, we won’t assign them to your games. TASO executive director Michael Fitch says most districts do a good job with respecting officials, “this policy is for those that do not.”

So here’s our advice to any parent, coach, player and fan of middle and high school sporting events this year: Control yourself. If you don’t, you’re not just making a fool of yourself, there may not be any games for you to attend.

Dallas Morning News