We need to examine ourselves

Published 7:53 am Monday, December 18, 2023

We have a problem with youth sports in Lincoln County but I guarantee you the problem is not just limited to the area. It is an issue you can find in Natchez, Vidalia, Starkville and likely Las Angeles and New York City. 

Referees are not paid enough to put up with heckling parents. It is one thing to disagree with a referee’s decision on Saturday when your voice is lost with the thunderous clanging of 60,000 cowbells at a Mississippi State football game.

To direct a verbal tirade of abuse at referees on a chilly winter night over a high school soccer match is disappointing but not in the least bit surprising. I’ve covered high school athletics for the past six years in Starkville, the Miss-Lou and now Lincoln County and some of the shouts I hear from the stands are embarrassing. 

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It doesn’t matter what the sport is, if there is an official involved the disgruntlement from parents will likely spill over from the stands and directly to the court. The behavior needs to stop because it sets a poor example for our student athletes. 

We all want to win, we all want the calls to go our way and we all want little Johnnie or little Susie to earn a scholarship but is it worth losing any notion of sportsmanship and respect? I wish I could tell some of these fans to pick up a whistle and referee games but judging by some of your comments you don’t have an earthly clue about the laws of the sport. 

I’ve been culpable of stoking the flames when writing stories on games where a controversial call happened. It is never my intention to direct anger towards a referee. The truth is some calls do impact a game and sometimes it is important to the story. At the same time, if you have been around athletics enough you realize you will get some calls to go your way and others won’t. 

We have high expectations of high school officials who give up their time to referee a game after they have had work all day or perhaps been in college classes all day. They don’t get paid enough to be verbally abused because you didn’t like their call or you feel some sort of injustice. 

We should have higher expectations of ourselves in the stands instead. Let the referees make the right call instead of trying to make it for them. We want them to call a fair game and guess what, that means some calls will go against your team. 

How can we expect our student athletes to respect others and to play a fair game when we don’t expect ourselves to do the same. 

The toxic behavior aimed at officiating is just one of several problems plaguing youth sports. 

I hear talk all the time from people about how student athletes aren’t as tough as they were, or how they don’t work as hard. My hypothesis is people perhaps are looking through rose colored glasses. 

Personally, I reflect on my high school career with some regret. Maybe I could have ran harder or trained more seriously to set quicker times in Cross Country than I did. My coaches saw more in me than I could and it takes maturity to realize it. It’s not that I didn’t work hard, I ran everyday for about three years, but I could have worked harder. 

Our student athletes work hard but I think pressure from parents and school has more of an effect than some realize. Some coaches tell me they have noticed a change in the kids but they have also noticed a change in parent involvement. 

Growing up, my dad or mom were always at my football practices and games. They supported me and drove me to cross country practice in the summer. Some coaches I’ve spoken to over the years expressed concern that some of these student athletes don’t have the support system they need to succeed

In high school, my parents helped me with booster club fundraisers. Yet I know one of the local band programs couldn’t find enough volunteers to work the concession stand. Do you know how sad that is? 

We are all busy these days and unable to give all we probably could have back in the day, I think it’s a topic deserving of another column on another day. We need to examine ourselves first and work to support our local student athletes. Support them, encourage them and by golly let the referees do their job. 

I encourage people to remember the goal of athletics in youth and high school is not to win or earn scholarships. The goal is to have fun, to grow and learn. I’ve always believed if you do things the right way and give your maximum effort then everything will take care of itself.