Verbal abuse at games drives referee group to adopt policy

AUSTIN (KXAN) — For years, schools have seen far fewer referees lace up their cleats to officiate games.

The Texas Association of Sports Officials said it has the numbers to make it work, though it may impact the remaining umpires.

“In Austin alone, we have over 400 members,” said TASO District 4 Director Brian Jones. “Another 100 would really benefit us.”

From 2017 to 2021, TASO lost nearly 2,000 referees.

“We’d like to put seven-man teams into every Friday night game,” said Doug Duke, TASO’s scouting coordinator. “Sometimes we only have enough to put a five-man team in a game.”

Calling around four to six games a week isn’t easy, and repeated instances of verbal abuse hastened that mass departure.

“Verbal abuse is a factor. Travel is sometimes a factor,” Jones said. “It’s not something that will make you a lot of money.”

According to TASO, only around 15% of its officials are under the age of 30. In this spirit, it is essential to recruit younger referees.

“The goal is to get people in there and train them,” Duke said. “They’re going to do this for 30 or 40 years.”

Sean Johnson is part of a rookie class of 40 new officials in Austin.

“It’s not about the money to be honest with you,” he said. “It’s something to occupy your mind and body to do something different from your normal day job.”

Now the challenge is to keep him and his peers in the game.

“It’s easier to be a fan of the game than to be part of it,” Jones concluded. “As an official, you are definitely part of the game.”

As the fall football season approached, there was a silver lining in TASO’s numbers with an increase of over 6% in membership, meaning around 1,000 new officials joined its ranks.

To address the growing incidents of verbal and physical abuse directed at sports officials, the TASO Board recently passed new rules to crack down on the problem.

TASO will review every school that has three or more reports of abuse.

If the majority finds the reports demonstrate a culture of not controlling players, coaches or fans, TASO will ask the school to provide a detailed plan to control unruly conduct.

If a school fails to do so, TASO will not provide referees for any sport at that school’s home games until the issue is appropriately resolved.

You can apply online to become a referee in Austin.

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