Any sports fan will the first to admit when their team loses the game, it is only one person’s fault, and that person is the official. The person behind the whistle who has traveled to show up and be the person who tries his or her best to keep the game fair and honest. It is these fans yelling and blaming the officials that are causing a major problem in the sports world across the country. This could lead to many games getting canceled if it isn’t resolved.
In Nebraska, that problem exists too, and is one of the main causes that there has been a shortage of high school referees over the last two years. This shortage has led to games having to be scheduled on different days or even games being scheduled at an earlier time during the day just so the officiating crew can go work another game in a different town that night.
Nate Neuhaus, Assistant Director and Supervisor and Coordinator of Officials for the NSAA, stated that this was a trend not only the NSAA saw but other state associations as well over the last 5-10 years.
“We’ve kept an eye on it; due to the fact of lack of appreciation, lack of respect, poor sportsmanship has led to decreased numbers.”
In the Nebraska High School Activities Associations Officials Survey from this past year, 33% of officials said that they have considered leaving due to poor sportsmanship, and 81% of officials also said that the people that cause the most sportsmanship problems are the spectators.
While there are many other reasons why officials decide to hang up the whistle, the lack of respect and appreciation for officials is the root of all problems.
Jake Samuelson, who has been an official in Nebraska now for a total of eight years, refing both basketball and football, agreed that the main problem is the lack of respect from the crowds.
“A person can only take so much of being yelled at,” Samuelson said, “It can get pretty nasty and not so fun sometimes.”
Neuhaus said this is the reason why it is so tough to recruit officials because many of them are already seeing this before trying it out.
“It is causing individuals to see that as a spectator and decide never to be an official or try to officiate at a younger age and have a negative experience that drives officials out of the business.”
The NSAA, like many other state associations, has begun to tilt their ways into now more, creating awareness to let people know what they are up against and how this is really impacting the kids on these teams not being able to play more than anything.
Neuhaus, to combat this new strategy of getting people to realize what is happening and why it is such a huge issue, created a presentation called “Respect the Ref.” Neuhaus has taken his presentation on the road and visited almost 20-25 high schools across the state, trying to draw awareness of the problem with the lack of officials.
“We just have to do things to generate or change the narrative,” Neuhaus said “It’s not negative relationships towards officials it needs to be positive.”
Many of the schools in Nebraska have adopted this same thinking, as there is now an appreciation week for every sport during this season for officials. Where schools, along with the spectators, put together food, write thank you cards, and take pictures with the officials to try to change the narrative like Neuhaus is talking about.
The NSAA has seen its numbers come back from their initial decrease at the start of COVID in 2020. In the fall, the NSAA had 100 first-time officials for football, 80 for volleyball, and 40-50 for softball.
Neuhaus mentioned while it is great to see those numbers go back up and how he is happy with the way the schools and fans have been doing a better job at respecting officials, it really comes down to the fans changing their ways.
“Until people make a conscious decision to do better until they make the decision to watch what they say,” Neuhaus said. “There’s not a whole lot we can do.”
You can find more information on how to become an official at the NSAA website at nsaahome.org.