I have been engaged in many sports debates over my lifetime. A typical argument might focus on determining who is the most important person on the field of play at any given time.
As I ponder the multitude of amazing athletes I have seen over the years, whether at a large stadium, on a television set or at the local ballpark, I'd like to propose someone as "most important" who is rarely, if ever, given credit for any sort of on-field performance.
I'd like to suggest that the dedicated referee ought to be regarded much more often by sports fans as the most important person on the field of play.
Consider that sports at almost every level would not be possible without some form of officiating, yet when a referee or umpire does his or her job flawlessly, the performance is barely recognized. Also consider that a poll aimed at children by Sports Illustrated for Kids revealed that a whopping 74 percent of children have witnessed out-of-control parents at one of their games.
Those who step forward to officiate at the youth-sport level often do a thankless job that might result in angry catcalls from parents and, in more extreme instances, threats of physical harm. Instances of parents behaving badly are so pervasive that chronicling just this year's examples is like shooting fish in a barrel.
In June, an umpire ejected the entire audience of more than 100 boisterous fans at a baseball game in West Burlington, Iowa. Play resumed without consequence after a 40-minute delay that allowed order to be restored.
Pennsylvania has its share of offenders, too. After evicting a coach for unruly behavior, a Pittsburgh area referee was victimized by $1,300 worth of damage to his car, though determining who gouged his car's body was problematic.
With tight budgets, youth-level officials get paid a modest amount or might even work for free. Volunteer officials might actually pay to work games if you consider the uniform expenses and add in transportation costs.
The truly dedicated officials also attend clinics and spend hours reading through rule books that can be incredibly complex. They might also attend league meetings, while working with commissioners and coaches to ensure that the game-day experience is as positive as it can possibly be.
While at a semi-pro hockey game in one of the most absurd sporting experiences I had ever encountered, I watched a rather small hockey referee deck a big, burly defenseman, viciously knocking him to the ice. Before the unexpected punch, the referee attempted to lead the player to the penalty box, but he repeatedly and mockingly acted as though he was going to slam the referee with his stick. The bizarre melee that unfolded was so out of control, that only the New Jersey State Police could restore order. In this instance the referee acted in an unprofessional manner, but for me the incident hammered home the importance of having good, competent officials at sporting events.
With three young sons, I have often helped to coach youth sports, so I know that coaches are occasionally thanked for their hard work. The referee or umpire might work just as hard and be every bit as committed, but the outcome for them tends to be vastly different.
Sports officials might be the most important persons on the field of play, but when they do their best work, no one even notices.
Trumpbour, a communicators professor at Penn State Altoona, is a frequent contributor to Voice of the Fan. He resides in Duncansville.