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Adults need to tame tempers at youth events

Little League Player Sliding Into Base
Getty Images | Photodisc

Now that the 2012-13 prep season has nearly concluded, I want to get something off my chest.

Referees, umpires and officials at the high school level made a few mistakes this year.

There I said it. I know, you don’t believe it, but it’s true.



That being said — there is no reason to haul off and clock one for it.

In the news recently, there have been several horrifying incidents where players, coaches and fans have taken their fervor for the game too far, crossing the line between one’s competitive nature and common sense.




In late April, Ricardo Portillo, a youth-soccer referee in Utah, was punched into a coma and later died from his injuries after a player physically retaliated for a call made on the field.

Nuts, right? How could a player think this is an acceptable response to a call?

I’ll tell you.

It’s a learned behavior cultivated from years of watching adult coaches and fans disrespect on-field officials without real repercussions.

Go check youtube.com, if you doubt coaches and parents are the worst offenders in what we all hold in high regard — sportsmanship. You’ll be lost for hours watching weak-willed adults at youth games verbally and physically attacking officials, opposing players and other fans.

In Friday’s issue of The Union, a Colfax Little Leaguer’s grandmother wrote of how a Bear River coach needed to be coaxed back in the dugout after verbally attacking a high school-aged umpire. She is not the only one who is fed up with adults turning youth sports into a venue to spout off their inexact knowledge of the rules and interpretation of plays.

And take it from someone who watches a lot of high school sports and in myriad local arenas — Nevada County is an offender. Don’t get me wrong, I love how much sports mean to this community, and there are more positive sports figures than negative here. But sometimes the passion for sports that drives so many in this community, also drives them over the edge.

At a Bear River game two-seasons ago, an altercation broke out in the parking lot after a girls basketball game where two girls were pepper sprayed by women in their 20s.

During the most recent boys soccer season, I saw a fan, not a parent of a player, but a fan taunting a Roseville player, calling him “Ginger”; the same “fan” later got into a verbal altercation with another Roseville player and finally an altercation with the referee before he was asked to leave.

And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve eavesdropped on conversations where one parent would say to another, “This umpire is terrible,” or “If it weren’t for the terrible officiating, we would have won.”

And yes, officials do have a bearing on the outcome of the game, but rarely are they the reason one team beats another.

The reason teams lose is because they lack either the talent, focus, determination and luck the other team had on that day. And I don’t mean luck calls — I’m referring to a bloop single or a ball that hits the rim five times before it falls.

Fans, coaches and players who blame losses or poor performances on the officiating are kidding themselves and hurting their teams by thinking wins and losses rest on the shoulders of officials.

As a writer who spends most of his time observing from the stands, I have found that when a team is behind or not winning by as much as it should, those in the peanut gallery start to point the finger at officials.

Sure there was a no-call that hurt NU’s boys volleyball team in its section championship, several bang-bang plays at first base during the baseball and softball seasons that were called wrong, along with ever-confusing strike zones, and I can’t believe how many NU touchdowns were called back on bogus calls last season.

But, asking the officials to get everything right is an impossible task and should not be levied at the high school level.

A 2010 study conducted by ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” found that 20 percent of close calls made by MLB umpires were incorrect.

Researchers used broadcast footage of all games from June 29 to July 11, 2010 —184 in total — and reviewed every call with the exception of balls and strikes.

The “Outside the Lines” analysis found that an average of 1.3 calls per game were close enough to require replay review to determine whether an umpire had made the right call. Of the close plays, 13.9 percent remained too close to call with 65.7 percent confirmed as correct and 20.4 percent confirmed as incorrect. That’s one in five calls that were blown at the highest level.

So why do people think it’s OK to lay into a prep-level official.

At the high school level, most refs are not full-timers. It’s a job to supplement their income or, in some cases, just a way to stay active and give back to the sports world. These people don’t have agendas, so don’t approach them like they do.

In sports, the players are flawed, the coaches are flawed and the umps are flawed. Deal with it. It’s just like in life. Our jobs are flawed, we are flawed, and our bosses are flawed — and guess what, life isn’t fair, so why should we think sports are?

Sports especially at the youth level are a teaching venue for the future. Kids learn about teamwork, respect, discipline and earning a position and also learn how to deal with adversity and unfair circumstances.

And by the way, coach or fanatical parent, while you’re out there ripping a teenager or high school ump a new one for an inconsistent strike zone, your son or daughter is in the dugout wishing his parent was one of the ones in the stands silently judging you. Or worse, looking at you like you’re in the right for disgracing the game and throwing a fit.

With the Little League Tournament of Champions and All-Star tournaments coming up, the tensions will be at an all-time high, so I want to impart on my readers what as fans and family members our obligations are: Root for your child and his or her team. Bring snacks (if it’s your turn), preferably orange slices and a juice box, and that’s it.

So please, as we move forward as a community, remember why you’re out there: to support your sons and daughters and their team. Not to fight the injustice that was thrown upon your kid’s team by the umpire. It’s just a game, and more importantly, it’s not about you.

To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email wford@theunion.com.


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