High School sports across the country have an issue. They have student-athletes ready to play, coaches who have put together game plans, and fans ready to cheer on their teams, but there's one key piece they're constantly trying to find recently — officials.

The Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) has not been spared when it comes to the shortage of officials. Boonville and Gibson Southern had to move their game last week, originally scheduled for Friday, October 16th, to the night before due to an inability to get enough officials for the originally scheduled date.

Yes, the pandemic is part of the issue, as many of the state's officials are older and considered to be high-risk for contracting the virus, while those who are younger opted out this season citing concerns of spreading the virus to their parents and other older relatives. With that said, the problem has been brewing long before COVID-19 existed.

Part of the problem has been many longtime referees are simply getting too old handle the physicality that comes with running up and down the court or the field with a group of kids who are 30 or even 40 years younger than they are. However, the other part of the problem is the fans as well as the coaches, and sometimes the players themselves.

In an interview with WTHI-TV in Terre Haute back in March, IHSAA Assistant Commissioner, Sandra Walker said "treatment of officials is a problem," and referenced the "the behavior of the fans, coaches, and players during the games when they're being played," as the number one complaint they receive by licensed officials. I've witnessed it first-hand several times. Most recently, at the aforementioned Boonville-Gibson Southern game (my son is on Boonville's junior varsity team, and dresses for varsity games) when a fan a couple of rows in front of us incessantly berated the officiating crew for calls he deemed to be wrong calls, going as far in one instance to insult one referee's weight, saying he was "too fat" to keep up with the play on the field. Which is uncalled for, but fairly tame compared to other things I've heard, and I assume you've heard too.

Are there bad officials? Yes. Do they make bad calls? Yes. Even the good ones make mistakes. Does that give us the right as fans to insult or even threaten them? Absolutely not. If we want our kids to continue having the ability to play sports, we have to be better, or there won't be games to see.

If you or someone you know loves sports, would hate to see them go away due to a lack of officials, and are prepared to deal with the backlash that may come from a fan in the stands, a coach on the sideline, or a player on the field, visit the National Federation of State High School Associations website, or the IHSAA website to learn more about the application process.

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