Which made us wonder: What, was he a sword-swallowing birthday party clown? A candy-coated beekeeper? A sword-swallowing beekeeper?
Turns out, it was worse. He was a high school ref.
The Northern Lakes League announced that it “lost another soccer official” because of the “constant verbal harassment from players, coaches, and spectators.”
It was a midseason walkout as unsurprising as it is alarming, and if that’s not enough of a wake-up call, consider what another official told me this week: “I wouldn’t be surprised if high school sports are a thing of the past in 20 years.”
Maybe (probably) that’s as crazy as it sounds. Maybe not.
After all, who officiates our games if there are no officials left?
We’ve beaten this drum before, but we can’t do it enough: The officiating crisis is real and trending toward dire as an older generation of stripes cycles out — the average age of Ohio’s 15,000-plus prep officials in all sports just pushed past 50, according to the state federation — and the new wave, well, there is no new wave. Class numbers are down, attrition up. Two of 10 officials make it past two seasons, per the National Federation of State High School Associations.
The reasons are many — low pay, family obligations, etc. — but the biggest is nutty parents.
“Our culture in high school athletics has become toxic,” NLL commissioner Richard Browne said.
Case in point: During a recent league sportsmanship workshop, Brown asked a group of 48 student-athletes — six from each conference school — how many of them have been embarrassed by a parent or adult in the stands. Forty-eight hands went up.
To me, there are two solutions: Every loudmouth who believes a $7 ticket entitles him or her to assail the eyesight, physique, and integrity of the officials — all of whom are clearly out to cost their kid a scholarship — should be placed in a soundproof crying room. Or, more radically, we can start acting like HUMAN FREAKING BEINGS.
Believe it or not, the officials are human, too.
To put a face to one such piñata, I reached out to a Toledo prep soccer official who walked away after last season. Cameron Kruzel, 39, joined the ranks in 2012 for the same reason as most: he enjoyed the game and wanted to give back. But soon enough, what was supposed to be a fun side job turned into a nightmare. He was sacrificing family time for a downpour of abuse and $40 to $60 per game? The final straw was a match last year between Start and Maumee Valley Country Day that ended, he said, with his crew requiring an escort to their cars.
And we wonder why the numbers are down.
“Kids see how refs are getting treated by their parents,” Kruzel said.
To suggest officials grow thicker skin is to miss the point. This is about perspective and basic civility. Either sign up to wear the stripes yourself or respect those who do.
Asked how he’s holding up without any parents to call him a bleeping idiot, Kruzel said, “I’m a whole lot happier.”
Let us all be better.
First Published September 27, 2018, 3:31pm