‘Addiction to winning,’ out-of-control parents causing shortage of referees

Several recent incidents show coaches and parents assaulting referees and umpires, and the victims aren't returning to the field or court


CHATTANOOGA (WDEF) – State athletic officials recently returned from a conference in Indianapolis, and one told News 12 that a big question that came out of it was “How do we stop parents from attacking our referees?”

Ernie Yarbrough, the assistant executive director for the Georgia High School Association, also said a sitting judge in Augusta coined the perfect term.

“An addiction to winning. And he said that people now … there is so much pressure to win, and parents are putting so much pressure on young teenagers and impressionable youth to win that, when there’s failure involved, it’s got to be somebody else’s fault.”

Several incidents seen on public media have surfaced showing coaches, players and parents assaulting referees and umpires at various youth tournaments and recreational games. It’s why the addiction to winning created a shortage of referees across the country.

Sidney Freeman of DeKalb County, Georgia is a referee being attacked just three weeks ago at a youth basketball game.

Back in 2020, Emmanuel Duron of Edinburg, Texas tackled a referee after being ejected from the game.

The pandemic created a shortage of referees for state athletics, but these scenes made even more stop doing something to give back to the kids, and officials are taking notice.

Yarbrough: “I just think it’s societal. I don’t know why we’ve gotten there, but I do know that in our current culture is that it is a ‘win-at-all-cost’ attitude, and in more areas of life than just competitive athletics.”

Richard McWhirter, TSSAA’s assistant executive director, says, “It’s education-based athletics. It’s the extended day of the school day and I think, right now, some parents don’t see that and we’ve got to get back to that. Even our coaches have got to realize that. It’s the extension of the classroom and we’ve got to make it that way.”

Tennessee and Georgia began moving certain high school games from Friday to Thursday to account for the referee shortage. So far, no school complained.

Yarbrough: “While the coaches certainly don’t care to (move games to different days throughout the week), they understand the predicament that we’re in, because they don’t want us to put warm bodies out there. They want people that are going to give the highest level of competency they can in their games.”

It’s not often to see a coach or player lose his or her temper like that. Many of the videos we see are parents assaulting a referee or even a random fan, like what happened to referee Richard Powers after Game 5 of the 1975 NBA Finals.

Phil Massey, the head football coach at Chattanooga Christian School, says it’s time to get back to the basics when parenting or coaching children in athletics.

“Coaches coach. Players play. Officials officiate. And, parents, be a parent. Cheer for your child. Those are things that just are going to have to be reiterated so that this doesn’t become an every day occurrence.”

Sidney Freeman, the referee from DeKalb County, needed 30 stitches to his head after the attack.

There is an investigation into the incident, but so far, no charges have been filed.

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