Uptick in Bad Behavior by Spectators Causes Referee Shortage


Courtesy of Stacy Frost

An umpire stands behind home plate, calling an FC basebal game. Referees in baseball are called umpires. Despite differing names, the same officiating shortages are seen in multiple sports.

When you go to a sporting event at FC in between each hype up song you’ll hear an advertisement from the Virginia High School League (VHSL) encouraging adult fans to become high school referees.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), since the 2018-2019 school year there has been a loss of approximately 50,000 officials nationwide. The ramifications of this were felt at FCHS this spring, when the girls lacrosse game against Wakefield High School was canceled because there weren’t enough referees.

“It didn’t affect us greatly because it was not a district game but it was still a game that could have counted towards our record,” said girls lacrosse captain Sadie Laughlin (11). “Which means less stats, less in-game experience, and one less game on the schedule all because they couldn’t find 2 refs for one game.” The shortage of refs has been felt differently across sports.

“We always had a 5 man crew. This past football season, we got really lucky to have a full crew of refs for our games,” said head football coach Franklin Weaver. “Some Varsity Football games got moved to Thursday night, because of the shortage of refs.” But the shortage hasn’t just affected teams, it has placed extra pressure on referees.

“It has caused our officials to be on the field more than we would like,” said commissioner of the Washington Area Lacrosse Officials Association Marty Joyner.

According to the NFHS, referees have been leaving for a multitude of reasons including the COVID-19 pandemic, deciding to spend more time with their families, and a job change. But the biggest reason for referees leaving is the increase in unsportsmanlike behavior from players and the crowd.

The unsportsmanlike behavior doesn’t stop at yelling at an official or booing when a call goes the other way. Some coaches and parents have been seen storming onto the field getting in an officials’ faces and occasionally physically attacking referees.

According to WTOP, 64 percent of officials have reported having to eject spectators from youth sports games.

The NFHS launched its Bench Bad Behavior campaign to help spread awareness about the issues facing referees and how fans can help, with most of its materials targeting adult fans.

Even with these efforts there is still a shortage of referees. For high school teams this shortage can still affect their seasons.

“I personally stopped officiating in college because HS games needed to be covered,” said Joyner.