14 News Special Report: Out of Bounds

Updated: Jun. 5, 2019 at 10:59 AM CDT
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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - The number of high school sports officials is on the decline, and officials say the biggest culprits are parents.

An Ohio University study shows in 2015-16 there were 500 FEWER referees in Nevada and 200 fewer refs in Tennessee.

The story’s the same in Kentucky and Indiana.

Representatives from the Indiana High School Athletic Association, IHSAA, say their ejection rate for coaches and players is down 15% from last year, but the ejection rate for fans is up 43%. That’s creating a hostile work environment for officials.

Kenny Culp experienced that first hand. He was beaten bloody by an AAU basketball coach after a game in Paducah this past April.

“I mean that’s scary," said Adam Pryor. But I’ve seen videos for several years now.”

Pryor is a high school umpire in Owensboro. He's been officiating baseball for 12 years now.

Pryor says every game he hears the boos, the jeers, and the parents questioning his calls. None of that gets to him. It comes with the territory and there's a fine line between supporting your team, and harassing the umpire.

"Last year at a high school game I had a very close call at the plate that ended the game. And obviously one way or the other, somebody is going to be mad," Pryor said. "I go back to my truck…We’re out in the parking lot just taking our stuff off and everything and a parent that was parked just a couple cars away from me came and just let me have it.”

It’s the normalcy of events like this that prompted Kentucky High School Athletic Association Commissioner Julian Tackett to co-write an op-ed piece entitled Dear mom and dad, and in some cases, school personnel: cool it, in which he outlines how parent and fan behavior is hurting high school sports.

He writes: "According to a recent survey by the National Association of Sports Officials, more than 75 percent of all high school officials say “adult behavior” is the primary reason they quit. And 80 percent of all young officials hang up their stripes after just two years of whistle blowing. Why? They don’t need your abuse."

Butch Cope says right now the KHSAA can manage with the number of officials they have. However, with an aging officiating pool and less young people signing up, the future doesn't look bright.

“We’re seeing probably about 100 people a year drop and that doesn’t seem like a lot to some people, but when you only license 4,000…give that 5 years and you’re hurting," Cope said.

The KHSAA says they can make the rules and standards for how to act during a high school sporting event, but when it comes to game day, policing those standards is out of their hands.

"The board just recently adopted a policy to where if a parent or a non-participant or a coach was ejected from a contest then perhaps, they need to sit out and miss the next contest as well. And that would be up to our schools to execute that as well," said Cope.

That's something Muhlenberg County Athletic Director Jerry Hancock has done for three years now. At the beginning of each season, Hancock makes his parents and players sign a conduct contract to hold them accountable for their actions during games.

“I feel like after they put their name to something and have a little ownership," Hancock said. "Now are they still going to holler at officials sometimes? Yes. But the negative name calling or the calling out individual players you know that’s what we’re trying to stop.”

That's what Pryor wants too. The ability to focus on calling the game and furthering the sport that he loves.

“I’m out there to just do my job," Pryor said. "I’m not out there to be biased one way or the other. I’m just out there to call balls and strikes, safes and outs, and go home to my family when I’m done.”

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