Not throwing in the towel: Local refs staying on the field

As youth sports leagues in other areas struggle to keep referees, the Interstate 35 corridor has largely escaped the problems plaguing other areas, officials said.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, 80 percent of high school officials are quitting before their third year.

The most common reason refs throw in the towel is because of the way they are treated by the players’ parents, the association claims in a new campaign. In many areas of the country, the turnover has led to games being rescheduled because of the lack of referees.

Luckily for youth players in Hays County, the proximity of referee associations in both Austin and San Antonio means the local area has avoided having to change their season schedules, Lehman High School head girls basketball coach James Halatin said.

Halatin has coached youth sports for more than 20 years, and said he has been lucky in terms of parent behavior. He chalks up the increased competitiveness to the increase in club and select youth teams.

“I think the difference is there’s more select teams and club teams. That’s a bigger part of youth sports than 20 years ago,” Halatin said. “I’ve been lucky, haven’t been in a situation to see (our parents) get unruly.”

In the age of social media, Halatin said the videos of parents wrestling over a call in their child’s’ game tend to go viral, but are not an indication of how most sports leagues operate.

“You see that craziness more on YouTube clips. That’s unfortunate, but that’s a minimum but gets spread on social media. It’s such a small percentage of what actually happens,” he said.

In his experience, youth sports referees in the area have always been a positive part of the sports experience for kids.

“They respect you if you respect them,” Halatin said.

Buda resident Jason Schaffer worked as a Little League umpire in high school, and later officiated high school baseball games himself. He said that in his experience, parents have gotten more aggressive in the way they treat referees.

“It has gotten worse. It’s kind of a snowball effect. In the first inning, if you make a questionable call that’s close, it can have the stands seemingly against you. Every close call, it grows and grows and grows,” Schaffer said. “Back in the day when I was playing, if an umpire made a bad call, people holler but then moved on.”

The main goal of referees is to officiate the ball game as best they can, Schaffer said. Sometimes people are wrong or things happen, but nobody is malicious. He hopes parents understand that.

“The thing that is funny about it is if you’re at a restaurant that gets your total wrong, you don’t yell at the server,” he said. “At a baseball game, why is it acceptable to yell at an umpire like there’s no tomorrow?”

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