I think I might be done. After just one season of officiating I’m considering hanging up the stripes, donating my gear, and walking away from the third and least comfortable hat I’ve worn in the Idaho Lacrosse community. Perhaps a few months away from the ugly sideline culture that I was introduced to this year will temper my attitude, but right now I can’t imagine spending any more time around the negativity that has permeated our sport’s culture.
Let me back up by saying that lacrosse in Idaho has exponentially changed my life for the better. In high school it was the confidence that I developed on the lacrosse field that gave me the courage to ask a girl to prom, a girl who would later become my wife. As a coach I learned how to set a positive example for the young men in my charge, a skill that directly transferred to my success as a teacher in the classroom.
What I learned as a ref, however, is that there is an ugly side of our sport.
The vast majority of people involved in Idaho lacrosse are phenomenal human beings. For every obnoxious parent on the sideline there are nine others who watch respectfully. For every coach who encourages his players to act in a manner they wouldn’t condone off the field, there are nine others who take their mentorship role to heart.
But we as a lacrosse community are only as strong as our weakest links, and the 90% aren’t doing a good enough job of calling out the other 10%.
As a first year zebra who showed a moderate amount of aptitude right out of the gates, I was assigned a slew of games at every age level. In most States it would take me at least a couple of years before I even sniffed a high school varsity game. In Idaho, because we have a hard time recruiting and retaining officials, I was given these games three weeks in to my career.
How could a league that has been around since 1999 be so short on officials that first year guys like me are being assigned to some of the most high profile contests? Simply put, we aren’t doing enough to shame the people giving our sport a bad name. We’re not suspending coaches for berating officials. We’re not sending moms and dads to their cars when they turn the sidelines in to a community theatre version of the Jerry Springer Show. The 90% are letting the 10% determine the league’s reputation, and those 10% are running officials out of town.
Far too many individuals in our community feel like it is their own personal responsibility to point out every flaw in an official’s game, even if that flaw did not exist in the first place. In the last two months I’ve been accused of favoritism, I’ve been called “horrible”, “blind”, and “terrible” by people who were simply upset that a call went against his or her son. I’ve listened as parents yell, “Take him out!” and “Hey ref, keep the kids safe!” in the same breath.
My tipping point came recently, when I had a player get chest to chest with me to argue a call. When his behavior was passively encouraged, I decided I might not need this in my life anymore.
I plan on returning to the coaching ranks some-time in the next few years. When I do, it will be team policy that parents who berate the officials are asked to go home. Players who disrespect the men in stripes will be benched, and additional consequences will be tacked on at the subsequent practice. Most importantly, when I disagree with a ref, I will model appropriate behavior by waiting until a dead ball and talking to him the way we expect the players to talk to their peers and superiors.
And you know what? We will win ball games. We will win lots of ball games. We’ll win because success is a byproduct of doing things the right way. We’ll win because our young men will develop values that will benefit them both on and off the field. We’ll win because our boys will know that failure is caused by internal factors, not by the men in stripes. We’ll win because both of our sidelines will be packed with positive role models that will demonstrate what solid character looks like.
God bless the men that have been dealing with this ugly side of our sport for the last 15 years. We need more of them. Unfortunately, if the 90% continue to refuse to step up and call out the 10% that give our sport a black eye, our quality zebras will eventually go extinct.