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WIAA pushing to make harassment of sports officials a misdemeanor in Wisconsin

Posted at 6:51 PM, Mar 05, 2021

From Mike McCarthy's 2019 tirade to regular parents yelling, sporting officials often face verbal and even physical abuse.

"When you invade our physical space, which is being done more and more and more, that is very difficult for anyone to deal with," says Barry Mona, President of NASO.

Barry is a former referee turned advocate, and he is no stranger to the daily struggle officials across the country face. But a recent survey conducted by NASO, including over 17,000 participants, amplifies those experiences.

"Our survey points out that nearly half, 48 percent, felt that they were unsafe going out refereeing games," says Barry.

In today's world of social media, the WIAA recognizes that harassment may not end once the officials are off-site.

"You throw in that social media aspect of it too. A lot of people are reposting videos or pictures of 'this was such an awful call' and it's just so much more visible to the outside public than it has been in the past few years," says Kassie Mortimer, WIAA assistant director.

That's why the WIAA is pushing to make harassment of sports officials a misdemeanor, punishable with up to a $10,000 fine to nine months in jail. Currently, it's up to NASO or the WIAA to take care of officials in Wisconsin.

"We contact the school and the officials, dig into all the details to figure out what happened," says Kassie.

With a nationwide shortage, less experienced officials also have to deal with fighting amongst athletes.

"57 percent have had to step in and break up a fight during a game," says Barry.

No matter what you believed tarnished the job, the effects are undeniable.

"Our officials' registration for this current school year is down about 25 percent," says Kassie.

"Forget the pandemic. They were moving games around from Fridays to Tuesdays to Wednesdays, this has been going on for five years," says Barry.

High school football officials are desperately needed no matter what state you live in. However, in Wisconsin, soccer, softball, and baseball officials are lacking.

"Teams and coaches are wanting more quality officials, but once a high school or college graduate comes out, and they get treated the way that they are, they say 'nope it's not worth my time,'" says Kassie.

It's gotten so bad, that 70 percent of officials end their careers by year three. Sooner, rather than later, it won't be the job at risk, it will be youth sports at risk as a whole.

"We need legislation, but we need education, we need a commitment from organizations like the WIAA and others who have backed this bill. To stand up and say we are not going to accept this anyone, and we are going to use the sports officials as the harbinger of better things to come," says Barry.

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