Three Teams on the Floor
Imagine sitting in a gym watching the school team play the divisional game. You hear the crowds cheer and boo, but you also hear the sneakers running down the gym and the sound of the whistle. The whistle and the person who is controlling it, you know as the referee. Every single game or event you attend there is always a referee determining the rights and wrongs. These ladies and gentlemen keep our games moving along, but what happens when they are slammed for their decisions? Are the crowds being loud for the wrong reasons?
According to an article by the “Montanasports.com,” there has been a shortage of referees directly linked to fan verbal abuse. According to the article, a referee that has been doing the job for eleven years quit because of the buildup of negative and verbal abuse. The article also shares a number of nationwide stats that are eyebrow-raising, to say the least. According to the National Association of Sports Officials, more than 75 percent of all high school officials say adult behavior is the primary reason they quit, and 80 percent of all young officials quit after just two years.” Many parents are mad when calls are made on their own team and or child. After the build-up of anger, parents sometimes begin to slam the person making those calls. The article reminds the readers that “if you’re one of those parents or kids that finds yourself yelling at the refs or frustrated with the game, just remember there are openings to become officials as well.” In another article done by The Townsend School website titled “Sportsmanship and Crowd control,” the school shares that their “School District believes that athletic and co-curricular events are an extension of the classroom and are therefore learning activities. Community and parent support, along with role modeling of appropriate sportsmanship behavior, is an important part of our activities/events.” The article continues on with “spectators can support both teams by refraining from derogatory remarks, demeaning comments, and cheers...but at the end who’s a role model for whom? Before you, as a fan, verbally abuse a player, a coach, or an official at an athletic event – STOP AND THINK! Maybe it’s time for the fans to become role models for the participants.”
This makes the reader wonder how underestimated this situation really is, and does it occur in our own town? To offer an inside view, three of Malta’s well known officials shared some valuable information. These officials include Mr. Pat Sargent, who has been an official since 1995 and is still going, Mrs. Darlene Kolczak, who was a Referee in 2001 or 2002 until 2017, and finally, Mr. Grant Messerly, who started in about 2008 and is also still officiating. These three officials have seen their fair share of games and their conflicts as well.
“The Northern C Divisional Girls' Tournament in Great Falls,” was memorable according to Sargent. Messerly had stated that, “Eastern C Divisionals in 2014, and it was my first year as a master official. It was Mon-Dak VS. Fairview and the largest lead in that game was 3 points. I felt I was a little bit out of it for my first-year masters, and I came in through the back door to get that tournament. It is probably by far the greatest the game I've got to do. There's been a lot of them.”
When fans see these officials on the floor maybe they should begin to wonder how they actually got there. All three were encouraged by others, such as Kelly Murray, Ward Van Wichen, Bernie Wasser, Mr. Otteson, and even Pat Sargent! Although they were encouraged by these people, they kept going and still enjoy certain aspects of the games. They all have many reasons to enjoy the games.
“You get paid to be physically active. If someone's going to pay you to go out and exercise, why not take advantage of it. I enjoy seeing the kids compete and be successful,” stated Sargent. Messerly said that, ”The camaraderie amongst all of the officials [was another reason]. You go to tournaments and all the referees you know [are there]. And it's guys you've never met before, but by the end of the tournament, you're pretty good friends. We go through the same hardships. We get hollered at by coaches and fans, and so we are a special group. I've always said it takes a special person. It's the camaraderie” Finally Kolczak added that “The people you meet and some of the kids are really good.” With all of the good in everything, there are still some downsides. The following officials have taken on basketball, volleyball, and soon to be refereeing at football. The crowd activity is amazing here in Malta, and we aren't afraid to show pride, but we are starting to take things a bit to serious. The downsides to being a referee range from many different things. Kolczak added that, “ You either have really good coaches, or really they are on you all the time. There was one time it got to the point where I wouldn't referee for them [a certain team] because he would stand and yell at you the whole time if you were the down ref...just constantly picking on you.”
Messerly added that, “People don't realize when you holler mean things we have feelings too. I have never ever officiated with someone who tried to cheat. So when they say we are cheating for one team or the other team, it's kind of hard to take. We just keep going. They say the better official you become and the farther down the road you go, the less you can tune out the crowd. It's true you can tune them out, but there are still people that you can hear.” Sargent had concluded by stating that, “ Things you have to deal with on a nightly basis, whether it be getting to a contest, scheduling, being there on time, those kinds of things just the little things [add up]. Also probably the biggest thing is dealing with the individuals who don't know the rules and want to impose themselves into the contest when they should just watch it and enjoy it. Let us do our job. They should be there to enjoy the contest.”
Another ongoing issue in Montana is the parent and crowd interactions after calls are made. “In volleyball when I made a call, not many would respond because they don't really understand or know the rules,” stated Kolczak. "They let you know. I was refereeing with a guy one time, and he said, “Oh my God" every time I blew the whistle, and half the crowd yelled at me.”The other half thinks you are a hero. Fifty percent are fifty percent are not. It's one of those things where you gotta blow the whistle for the good of the game. I've found out through the years that when you put air into your whistle you just go 'OK and turn your head' because you know what's coming." Messerly added, "What bothers me the most is when I make a call and people yell at me. I don't feel I deserve it. I am human too.”
Referees are here to make our contest run smoothly and make it fair, but with crowds fighting back against calls we are slowly losing people. Sargent had added, “I’ve had to have some people removed from the contest because of their disrespect for not only myself, but the kids on the floor, and the contest in general. For the most part, it's people you can have a conversation with and just say, 'Hey, that's enough' and move on." He continued, “ I've made calls, and I've had to call the coaches and apologize because I've made a mistake. I applied the rules incorrectly, or I made the incorrect call at a time and applied it incorrectly. I've had to do that a number of times. Part of officiating is that people think we are perfect when we are clearly not. We make mistakes as anybody else does. I think a part of officiating is knowing when you've done that and owning up to it. Hey, I messed up I should have fixed it, and move on."
Reflecting on mistakes, Messerly stated, “As an 11-year official, I can say probably over half of my games on some of my calls, I can go back and watch, and think [I] shouldn't have called it if I wasn't in the right position. I’ve made mistakes. We always hear about the calls we blew as officials. The sad thing is we never hear while running down the court “Oh, that was a great call.”
Referee’s go through many hardships to keep their games on the right track, but there are others on the floor affected by crowd negativity, athletes. Crowd negativity and yelling affects the players. “It does. I think sometimes I've seen players, especially if their parents are yelling at them, shut down or they are tentative in their movements because they don't want to make another mistake instead of just playing. You are on the court with these kids, and you can see the emotion in their faces and how they change. I’ve seen working with young officials, if someone yells at him, he’s more prone to shut down and not blow the whistle as much as he should and you know that's why we always say there are three teams on the floor, and you need to go over and tell your teammate, 'You're doing fine',” concluded Messerly. When someone begins to yell negative comments or harsh words to anyone on the court, a player soon realizes it is their parents and they tend to become embarrassed and cannot focus on what is going on around them.
Crowd members respect the officials and the players. Things may not play out the way the fans wish, but respect the hard work and dedication they are giving to us. Without referees, there would be no sports events to attend. Before yelling at someone on the court again, stop and think, 'Am I cheering for the wrong reason?'
For anyone who is interested in becoming a referee, Mr. Sargent stated that “It's a great opportunity to travel and meet new people, and to give back to the community, give back to your school, give back to the people that are involved. The kids need officials in order to have a fair contest. It's unfortunate that a number of people won't do that, but then again you have things in the background that shut you down.”