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Atomic City Update: Referees and officials help high school sports thrive

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By Phil Scherer

In the spirit of the holiday season, I would like to acknowledge the officials and referees, without whom none of us could enjoy high school athletics throughout the school year. They are a group of people that rarely receive any kind of acknowledgement or appreciation, and that is really unfortunate.

Ever since I arrived in New Mexico, I have enjoyed numerous great conversations with officials and referees at all kinds of sporting events, and have found them to be among the friendliest people in all of sports.

But anytime I hear fans or players talking about the officials, it always seems to be negative. In a way, that comes with the territory. It doesn’t seem to matter what level of sports you are watching, the officials are always made out to be the bad guys.

They are the easiest people to make into scapegoats. It’s that way in the NBA, the NFL and Major League Baseball. It is said that the best compliment to give a referee is to not notice they are even on the field.

At the level of high school sports, it is important to remember that the individuals who do these jobs do them because they love sports, and want to do whatever they can to help the game grow, and get more kids involved. They make very little money and often have hectic schedules on top of their full time jobs. This is a commitment for them, just as big of a commitment as the coaches and athletes make.

During volleyball season I talked to one official that said she had been going to at least four games every week for more than a month, and that it became even more intense once the season-ending tournaments began.

Knowing the kind of commitment that goes into the job makes it even more awful to think of the verbal abuse they undergo so often. Over the summer at a little league game, I saw parents physically chase an umpire out into the parking lot as he was trying to leave a game because they didn’t agree with a call he had made earlier.

The man was so shaken up by the experience that he told me later he wasn’t sure if he even wanted to continue umpiring anymore. So yes, your words really can have a big effect on these people who are doing the job out of the kindness of their hearts.

One of my best interactions with an official came earlier this year at a volleyball match in Moriarty. There was only a small space for media to set up inside the gymnasium, but the officials wanted to make sure I had room to set up and do everything I needed to do.

Before the match started, the officials moved all of their stuff off the scorers’ table to give me more room, and made sure I had a great view of everything throughout the match.

These officials had so many other things to worry about without even thinking about me, but they wanted to make sure everything was perfect, and I really appreciated that.

So the next time you decide to start yelling at the officials from the stands, think twice. They are people just like you and me.

Are they perfect? No. But nobody is. They are doing the best they can to make the athletic experience a positive one for everyone.