there’s a high school kid i know…a good kid…who has a part-time job refereeing youth soccer. he’s a high school soccer player himself, so he knows and loves the game. and he’s a kid.
this past week, he was refereeing a pretty hotly contested match. somewhere during the game, he calls a foul inside the penalty box…which resulted in a penalty kick…which apparently changed the course of the game. such is soccer.
(for the record, 1-0 games in baseball are waaaayyyyy more entertaining than 1-0 matches in soccer. oh. excuse me. futbol.)
anyway, the coach of the penalized team blows a cork and begins to chew out this kid-ref…getting up in his face and won’t let up. so the kid-ref chunks him. sweet.
because of a league rule that says that only “league-approved” coaches can be on the sidelines…and because the assistant coach was not officially sanctioned by the league…the team had to forfeit the game, because they no longer had a coach.
then everybody came unglued. the league office was blitzed with emails and phone calls from angry parents. the ousted coach is fighting back. my friend…the kid-ref…is having his ability and character attacked and is facing a “hearing” with league officials for his accusers to confront him. his parents asked me to write a character reference in his defense.
while writing the letter today, i got steamed. really steamed.
the boy is a really good kid. he has convictions of his heart and he is not afraid to stand up for what he believes. in the arena where i intersect with him, he has always been respectful, hard-working and committed to living by godly principles in his relationships.
i speak from experience as a father of two sons who began umpiring baseball as high school students (because of the love of the game and to help pay for their college educations)…and continued to umpire into their young adulthood. i remember the difficult days as they grew up and learned their trade.
i listened to them being yelled and cursed at by parents twice their age. i watched as dads and coaches challenged them to fist fights in the parking lot after games over judgment calls that apparently made their son’s teams lose. yeah, right.
i’ve helped my son try to rub out the scratches in his car after an angry mom keyed his car from bumper to bumper in retaliation for my son ejecting her coach-husband from a game for getting in his face and trying to intimidate and humiliate him, in front of packed stands, for what the coach believed was a blown call. i’ve seen this stuff with my own eyes!
many nights, i helped my son process the abuse he took from coaches and parents at games he umpired as a young college student. i’ve listened to league officials explain that verbal harassment and physical threats to game umpires and referees are just part of the game and that he needed to grow up and get thicker skin. i believe part of that to be true.
i believe that teenagers definitely needed to grow up and get thicker skin. especially those who choose to officiate youth sports. many of them are not experienced enough to know the nuances of the games…and have not had enough time to memorize the details of the rule book. (the rule books my umpire son has to know…cover to cover…are both about three inches thick, with new pages being added every season. the rule book is far from the little 25-page paperback that youth league coaches carry in their ball bags!)
but in spite of their age and experience shortcomings, abuse and intimidation of young high school kid-refs by adults is never right. never. they are just young kids doing an incredibly difficult and demanding job…for very little pay! if these youth leagues want professional refs and umpires for their little beckams and little josh hamiltons, then they need to pony up and pay for the pros.
otherwise, they need to shut up and act like adults. adults who have the responsibility to teach and shape young minds and hearts about the realities of life, facing adversity, developing character and integrity, and experiencing the joy of play. adults need to be…the adults.
my sons grew up and got better. my oldest son is now one of the top umpires in the DFW area. and he got thicker skin. he got wiser. he matured. he’s no longer a kid-ump. he learned the rulebook inside and out. his judgment calls are much better. he has learned to block out the verbal abuse and physical intimidation by coaches and parents…which, unfortunately, never ends.
i hurt for this kid who has to face a jury that is clearly not one of peers. shame on the adults. shame on the coaches. shame on the parents. shame on our sports-crazed culture.
for what we’ve become. for what we’ve created. for what we’re producing.
on a side note…go mighty molinas!!