Let's Take Steps To Avoid Crisis County Must Continue To Develop Coaches, Officials And Athletes

SIDELINES

November 11, 1990|By Pat O'Malley

Good coaching and good officiating usually creates good relationships among student-athletes. Some like to call it sportsmanship, while others like myself call it respect and proper athletic conduct.

Should we worry that we might have a serious shortage of those vital ingredients that create a wholesome high school athletic program?

According to the National Federation of High School Sports, there is reason for alarm.

In other words, Anne Arundel County, which enjoys athletic affluence in terms of coaching, officiating and athletes who for the most part conduct themselves in a proper manner, needs to at least step back and look for possible cracks to avoid cave-ins that are cropping up all over the country.

The national federation was concerned enough that it established an ad hoc committee to study recruiting, training and increasing the number of sports officials and coaches. The committee was charged with coming up with ways to recruit, retain, evaluate and train high school coaches and officials in order to assist state and individual schools in fighting the problem before it gets out of hand.

In addition, the county's veteran coordinator of physical education, Paul Rusko says, "For the first time the national federation made sportsmanship a top priority."

That shows concern for increased fighting and unsportsmanlike conduct around the nation. Fortunately, this county has been spared such conduct with the exception of a few isolated incidents, which is a credit to Rusko and the county's coaches and officials.

But before we get into some of the things that precipitate fights, let's first discuss some of the major reasons we are losing coaches and officials and how we might improve the overall situation.

According to the national federation and its ad hoc committee study, the main reasons for the shortage of officials are: increased number of school activities, increased number of officials required by contest rules, abuse of officials by spectators and coaches, liability factors, lack of support and training for new, female and minority officials, conflicts between professional and personal commitments and limited financial rewards.

Those of you involved in and/or around the county athletic program can fully understand those reasons and have seen them come into play.

No doubt over the years we have lost a many good officials for one or more of those reasons.

In my opinion, the two main reasons we have lost some officials are abuse and liability.

You have to be thick-skinned and under control to be a top official.

Most officials realize there is always going to be somebody out there who comes looking for trouble and to heckle the zebras.

It's usually the only reason a fan like that shows up and the top officials ignore those types, but sometimes, officials, who are human like the rest of us, take to heart the remarks by nasty fans and parents.

And when things get personal, many officials throw their hands up (not on the field but afterward) and ask, "is this really worth it"?

That's a legitimate question and normally only the strong and thick-skinned survive.

The top officials are those you rarely notice except for their hustle and professionalism. They don't try to be the main event, but make the game the top priority.

They are always there to get plays right even it means getting help from a colleague, and they are willing to listen to the coaches, explain things and even let coaches blow off steam to a certain point.

"Under control, a hustler and a real pro" -- those are the compliments officials like to hear. The good ones earn your respect, command it and don't expect it just because they are wearing stripes and have a whistle on a string.

Nearly to a man these days, officials carry liability insurance. They have to in lawsuit-crazy America. It's a shame the way they have to gingerly move and act when a kid gets hurt for fear they might move a kid who shouldn't be moved and then get sued.

The worry is also there that a decision they make during the heat of battle might end up in court, or they may be accused of not moving fast enough and get blamed for an injury because of a lack of acrobatics.

Let's face it, there are a lot of bizarre reasons out there that lawyers find to sue people, and officials are often good targets.

The national federation is encouraging the contacting of national community and youth agencies "to create the awareness of the need for officials as well as providing recruiting tools that can be used by educational institutions."

In addition, some other ideas for pulling in officials include: using the media to disseminate information, encourage each registered member to recruit someone else, seek financial support for recruiting materials and find ways that would allow flex time for employees to officiate.

Here in the county, that final item is not a major problem because we have lighted stadiums, but junior varsity sports suffer occasionally.

Getting off work is a universal problem.

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