By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Staff
Referee jokes have been around for as long as sports have been, and many fans would swear that some refs are blinder than I am without my glasses. But all jokes aside, strides need to be made here in the state of North Carolina when it comes to officiating for high school sports.
I wrote a commentary in 2019 discussing the problems that the NCHSAA (North Carolina High School Athletic Association) was having with referee (officials) retention. Que Tucker, NCHSAA commissioner, gave a statement at that time, “…research shows that 80 percent of all young officials quit after just two years on the job because of the verbal beating they get. Much of that abuse is not coming from high school coaches or athletes, but from overly-competitive, overly-ambitious parents who have unrealistic visions of their sons’ and daughters’ future as a collegiate or professional athlete.”
Ok, fair enough, that does happen – no doubt about it. I hear things like that at every single sporting event I cover. But there’s another side to this discussion. It simply isn’t only hot-headed parents screaming needlessly at officials. Many times, those officials are making mistakes during these games – sometimes making numerous mistakes throughout.
Let’s look at the first sentence of Commissioner Tucker’s statement where she talks about 80 percent of young officials leaving after a short stint of officiating. That combined with the NCHSAA talking about a referee shortage leads me to believe that many of the current officials are quite new to the job.
I witnessed one of the worst officiated games in my life – not just my career – this past Friday at Hayesville. There were several egregious calls that ended up affecting the outcome of the game,. One official blew a call dead as a Cherokee player was running in the open field. The call…facemask…a defensive penalty! You don’t blow a play dead on a defensive penalty.
To be fair, they missed the spot of the ball, on both sides. several times. There was an interception overturned on a pass interference call and several others including several plays being run with no running clock.
Rather than thinking the officials were “cheating” for one team over the other, I think they just aren’t properly trained, and the system isn’t set up to give them help. There must be oversight, and it has to be on site. Schools may wage protests or complaints, but those are always after the fact and don’t affect the outcome of the contest unless players are deemed ineligible which isn’t what we’re discussing.
There must be a system in place at the field. Now, I am not about to propose instant replay or booth reviews which are used at the collegiate and professional levels for several sports. That is incredibly impractical especially at smaller, more rural schools.
I will reiterate an idea I proposed in that 2019 commentary. Maybe it is time for each team to provide a “referee-watcher” for lack of a better term. This person’s sole responsibility would be to keep an eye on officiating and any challenges or questions from coaches would be vetted to the head official through this person. That might cut down on the number of technical fouls or other penalties teams get when coaches approach referees.
When there is a controversial call, such as the ones I discussed above, the referee watchers could get together to discuss. There would have to be another referee watcher, maybe assigned randomly by the NCHSAA, to act as a tiebreaker if those two disagreed. This wouldn’t be a perfect system, but it could act as a sort of “booth review” that might cut down on mistakes.
I understand that officiating is a hard job, and I fully understand that it is basically a volunteer job as they’re paid peanuts and they’re just humans at the end of the day. They’ll make mistakes. I get that, but I also see how much time and effort the student-athletes and coaches put into their sporting endeavors. Those players deserve the best possible system.
Something must be done, and wouldn’t it be better to start trying some solutions than to sit back and just allow the same to continue happening?