PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Oregon School Activities Association has a message for fans of high school sports: stop harassing the referees or more games will be canceled.

In a message published on its website on Friday, OSAA says “the bad behavior of coaches, parents and fans at high school athletic events” must come to an end. The association says it’s an “unfortunate trend” that’s being seen in Oregon and across the country.

“Not only is this behavior unacceptable and embarrassing, but it’s also having serious consequences on the future of high school sports,” the article stated.

OSAA Executive Director Peter Weber says there used to be around 3,000-4,000 officials a year before the pandemic. There are now under 3,000, while the number of games has increased.

On top of the continued issue of COVID-19, OSAA says yelling, harassing, disrespecting and even physically assaulting officials is driving them away in droves.

“Fans have followed officials out of stadiums and out of games, we’ve had to have event managers and athletic directors escort officials to their cars,” Weber said. “More and more of them are saying it’s just not worth it.

“We’re seeing games having to be moved around, rescheduled, and in some cases canceled because we don’t have enough officials,” Weber added. “And consistently we hear the behavior of parents, spectators, sometimes even coaches is the reason.”

On its website, OSAA lists what it calls “alarming statistics” taken from a national survey of officials. Those statistics include:

  • 55% of officials say verbal abuse from coaches, parents and fans is the No. 1 reason they quit.
  • 59% don’t feel respected.
  • 57% think sportsmanship is getting worse.
  • 84% feel officials are treated unfairly by spectators.
  • 46% have felt unsafe or feared for their safety due to spectator, coach, administrator or player behavior.

“Our varsity game next week is now going to be played on a Thursday, and our JV game will be played on Wednesday,” Al Pimental said. Pimental is a parent of student athletes. “And the reason I have been told is because of referee shortages, which is saddening.”

As a parent of four, Pimentel said he’s been around youth sports for nearly 20 years. And while he hasn’t noticed a spike in bad behavior from the stands, he tells us he empathizes with the officials.

“I can see how referees who are already taxed and working quite a bit,” he said. “How any additional stressor, which would be parents and youth, would tip them over the edge and unfortunately not want to make them available.”

OSAA said it will take a team effort to get the games back on track.

As for parents like Pimentel, he said when bad sportsmanship occurs, everyone loses — including the students. “It’s heartbreaking, cause it hurts everyone, the athletes, the students, the parents, the fans, and even the referees who are giving their time.”

The executive director of OSAA encouraged anyone who thinks they would like to volunteer to apply amid this official shortage.

The association is partnering with the National Federation of State High School Associations in their “#BenchBadBehavior” campaign. The goal is to create a safe and respectful environment to help retain current officials and attract new ones.

Real the OSAA’s full message online here.