Out of Bounds: Losing the Game

(Source: WTOL)
(Source: WTOL)
(Source: WTOL)
(Source: WTOL)

LUCAS COUNTY (WTOL) - Being an official is not easy. With all the booing and yelling from fans, you've got to have tough skin.

And chances are, you've heard or even contributed to chaos in the stands. It's something officials, like Jamie Clay, have noticed becoming all too common.

"I think nowadays you'll see a lot more interaction, especially with fans that assume that because they bought a ticket, for instance, they're allowed to say whatever they want, they can do whatever they want," Clay said.

And for local athletic directors like Whitmer's Tom Snook, it's a challenge year-after-year to address and enforce.

"I tell people all the time, they're helping us out, we need to treat them with respect, and we also need to show our sportsmanship to them," Snook said.

For Clay, who's been officiating for 28 years, the goal is to always be consistent and encourage sportsmanship from the beginning.

"A lot of it's preventative officiating from our part, so if we can step in a situation before something happens that's going to prevent a lot of things
from happening later on down the line," he said. "Obviously, we're going to miss some things, we can't see everything, but if we're consistent on both ends of the floor and the coaches know that, and the players see that, they know what they can and can't do, and games run very smooth."

Over the years, Clay's received threats at games, but it hasn't deterred him from working to better the game.

"I understand that people are passionate about sports, but I think they don't understand from our perspective, we're not there to make money, and we're not there picking and choosing sides," Clay said. "I mean, I want to be there, and I hope no one even notices me, that's the best compliment I can have. So, if people don't know I'm there and the game runs smoothly, that's great."

Some fans though, don't see it that way.

While officials state-wide have seen first-hand just how heated fans can get, the question is, are you, the fan, conscious of this behavior?

In an online survey of more than 150 local high school students, 68 percent said they think about it. The remainder was split, 16 percent said they don't think about it, while the other 16 percent said, they're conscious of their behavior, but don't care how they treat officials.

In that same survey, when it comes to an interest in officiating, 49 percent say they are interested, 51 percent saying the opposite.

So, with responses like that, why is it a struggle to get new, younger officials?

"It's a lot of work for very little pay, and if you see how people are treated sometimes, I wonder why they come back," Snook said.

"I think at the lower levels is when I think you have more problems with parents and fans," Clay said. "So, most of our young officials, that is where they are officiating and that's where you see a lot of the problems. You'll have fans that take it to the extreme. And when officials see that and do that every day, three or four times a week, they get frustrated."

For Clay, who's in his 28th season of officiating, he said it wasn't until his sixth year that he got a varsity game. It's a process new officials aren't sticking around for.

"You'll have a lot of younger guys now that want to get in right away and they think they're ready to do varsity games and they're truly not," he said. "Now some are, but sometimes they'll get put into those situations and they can't handle it and then again, they get discouraged and they give up officiating."

With two new sanctioned sports added last year, the OHSAA saw a slight rise in officials from 2016 to 2017. But even with the rise, if you look at the overall numbers for the last seven years, the OHSAA has seen a decline of just over 1,400 officials.

According to Snook, they aim to have their schedules planned a year if not two years in advance. But if the decline in officials continues, make-up games and possibly even the length of a season could be in jeopardy.

"It's going to limit your flexibility of scheduling based on availability of officials," Snook said. "And I think that's what you're going to see is dates starting to be eliminated from scheduling and you could end up no getting some events in because there's no more officials for the dates you need to get everybody in."

Another possibility could be eliminating freshman and JV teams and having only varsity. Or, you'll have the same officials officiate two games in one night which is something that could make games even more intense for officials.

"You may find that you don't have enough officials where maybe the varsity officials have to do the JV and varsity, which is a frustrating thing because
if something happens in the JV game and now you have to stick around and do the varsity game, what might happen," Clay said.

Another option would be to lessen the amount of officials in each game. So instead of three basketball officials, you're only having two.

"If that happens, again, the quality of the game goes down because you can't see the entire field or court, so hopefully that doesn't happen," Clay said.

In the online survey, 51 percent rank the quality and consistency of officials and their calls at average. So, if this option were to happen, it could lead to even more frustrated fans.

In an effort to find new officials, some schools are getting creative.

"I know there are some schools in the state of Ohio and I know there are some officials that teach in those schools that have started officiating classes in school," Clay said. "Those students will either referee physical education games or after school games and things like that, get their license and then they are eligible to go out and referee. And that gets a lot of younger kids to get some sort of credit in school, and also encourage those young kids to get into officiating."

While some officials are stepping away from the game, Clay still finds it rewarding.

"I think the rewards are out there," he said. "We don't do it for the money, we're doing it to better the game."

Anyone interested in being an official, can information from the OHSAA here.

WTOL's Amanda Fay sat down with Danielle Dwyer after she covered this story for more information on what goes into becoming a ref and Danielle's own experience with parents as an official. Watch their discussion here.

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