Children’s sports are not about taking home a trophy. The playing field is where they learn the concepts of teamwork, interaction, and fair sportsmanship. They learn discipline by having to adhere to strict rules and guidelines and they learn that graciousness comes with defeat. Then they become adults, have their own kids, and forget everything they ever learned.
It’s getting harder and harder to find adults who are willing to take on the dangerous task of coaching or refereeing children’s sports. They get ridiculed, cursed at, threatened, and sometimes assaulted over a perceived bad call. All in all, it’s a thankless job.
Kristi Moore was awarded a huge shiner on her left eye by the mother of a 12-year-old player in a girl’s softball game because the irate mom disagreed with a call she made. This was not a lone incident.
Moore oversees umpires throughout the state of Mississippi and on occasion will ump a game in her hometown of Laurel. “The veterans are quitting in droves. They’re sick of it,” she said.
“When we work to recruit new people, get ‘em trained, get ‘em out there on the field, they’re three or four games in when someone gives them a good cussing out or an invitation to get their tail beat. They’re like: ‘You know what? I’ll go cut grass on the weekend.”
Moore was filling in for an umpire in Laurel who was sick and couldn’t make the $40 paid gig. When Moore called a runner safe at second base the mother immediately jumped up and began screaming profanities at her. Moore said the angry woman “accused me of cheating these kids.”
When Moore threatened to forfeit the game if the woman didn’t leave, she finally did. But this was not before making sure Moore that she’d catch up with her later to settle the score. Which she did.
Moore had been threatened many times during her 10-years of umpiring children’s softball so she thought nothing else of the incident. But sure enough, she wasn’t but a few steps off the field when there stood the flame-spitting mom who proceeded to punch her running lights out.
The woman was carted off to jail where she received a charge of simple assault. Moore also sustained some nerve damage and a bruised ear that she said will heal with time, but she has yet to return to the field.
She said, “In the back of my mind I’m like, ‘What if she had a knife in her bag and stabbed me? What if she went to her car and got a gun, then came back and shot me? It’s just scary.”
Barry Mano, president of the National Association of Sports Officials, said he hears stories like this every week. The group works on behalf of refs and umps in children’s sports at all levels.
The primary reason why it’s so difficult to fill these positions nationwide is due to abuse from parents. “And without us,” he said, “it’s just recess.”
As an example, just prior to the pandemic Michigan had 13,000 children’s umpires and referees who also officiated high school games. Today they have only 8,900.
Michigan is the spitting image of the nation. Over the past two years, the field has seen a 25-30% reduction in the number of qualified and registered officials.
“It doesn’t matter who wins or loses as long as they all have fun.” Have you ever said this? If so you’re in the minority, and that’s sad. The kids won’t remember the game, but they will remember that hot-headed parent who lost control. Is this lesson we want them to learn? If this is you. Knock it off.