They are irritable and irrational, you can see it in their body tension when they scream out insults publicly, surrounded as they are, on all sides by other adults and parents of school children.
Uncalled for, obnoxious, embarrassing to their ohana, their offspring, their school and the Big Island in general.
Classless parents who don’t know or don’t care how to behave in public. It is, they will tell you, out of deep care and concern for their keiki, out there on the field trying to learn how to play football, trying to learn to be a good teammate, instrumental to the team’s success, appreciated by everyone on the sidelines and on the field.
They are the children, the ones who are teaching their parents, if only the parents would learn.
It is a sad, actually deplorable scene that plays out every weekend in football season, starting with the Thursday night, Friday and Saturday high school games, right on through to the six Pop Warner games every Sunday.
If you want to see what it looks like when anger becomes chaos and confusion around children playing a game, go watch a Pop Warner game some day.
If you are a parent of a young boy or girl who really wants to see what playing football is all about, you’ll do the right thing, get them in to a doctor for a checkup and any possible advice, and then you’ll attend offseason meetings, meet the administrators and coaches and you’ll hear about sideline manners — how they expect parents to behave.
But if you just go watch a Pop Warner game you might come away with the idea that these parents were never told how to behave, have no idea about the scene they cause.
They should, because it isn’t outside the bounds of reality to consider that the future of Pop Warner football and maybe even high school football on the Big Island may be jeopardy because of bad parental behavior.
There are a dozen, sometimes as many as 15 people who officiate football on the Big Island. Work demands can get in the way, taking someone out of the crew of officials for games here or there and assignments have to juggled, occasionally at the last minute before games.
The situation wouldn’t be so critical if there were, say, two dozen or more competent, trained adults willing to give up their time to officiate high school and Pop Warner games, but that isn’t the case, not even close.
“Some of our guys have been doing this a long time and it can wear on you,” Lyle Crozier, BIIF executive director, said last week. “But you can’t do this forever, at some point, you need to step aside regardless of your passion for the game and for helping support youth sports, age becomes a factor.”
Soon, a couple of those youth football officials will be cycling out after extended years of service, and you can hardly blame them, whether it’s age — some have been officiating for over 20 years — or just the jaw grinding agony of trying to do the job in a fair manner for the kids who want a chance to play while taking abuse from coaches and parents whenever they work.
Coaches need to be a role model for parents, and that doesn’t happen 100 percent of the time. You see coaches running out on the field, angrily confronting officials who they thought made a bad call. Parents see that and too many of them take it as a cue, an indication that if it’s OK for the coach to throw a tantrum, it has to be okay for a parent to do the same.
It is not OK.
Not everybody works every game every week, but there’s nothing out of the ordinary when some of them are called to be available Thursday through Sunday.
Give that a little thought. On a normal weekend, you might officiate a game in Keaau on Thursday, then in Kona for a Friday night game and then work two games on Saturday, afternoon and night, possibly going again from Hilo side to Kona side. And then on Sunday, you get six more Pop Warner games, an all-day chore.
You aren’t making bank doing this, high school and youth football officiating is not a profit center for the official. Crozier said an official can lose money even after a nominal return on gas mileage.
Are you still interested?
The level of abuse officials can get at games is uncalled for. They have been followed to their cars, screamed at by red-faced adults with bulging neck veins, sweating and acting enraged like some goofball they saw on one of the big time rasslin’ shows on television.
It’s disgraceful and if it doesn’t stop, the games themselves might stop.
Again, it’s a very small group of Big Island adults willing to give their time to support youth athletics. A year from now, the group might not be as big as it is today.
The anger gets fed on social media when parents who think they know more about the game than the officials, rage at what they perceive as bad judgment, or worse, they accuse officials of favoring one team over the other. Somehow, in the deep recesses of their minds, they generate the idea that an official would give up 20 hours or more on a weekend for very little monetary return, just to intentionally make bad calls that would damage one team.
When Crozier goes to games, he always has applications to be an official in his back pocket. When he sees these angry parents, he will sometimes approach them and try to start a conversation, telling them he sees their interest, and by the way, he is looking for more officials, would they fill out a form to get started?
They never do.
They don’t want to be out there because they don’t want to be in the position to receive the kind of abuse they themselves give out on a regular basis. This isn’t about free speech. It isn’t about standing up for your kid.
It’s about being a responsible adult and parent and realizing these games are filled with judgment calls being made by adults who are trying to help support youth athletics, but, being human, they sometimes falter.
Have you seen an NFL game lately? Those officials get replays of the games they worked, cut up, showing just the calls, with input from NFL offices. They have lengthy offseason seminars, they are paid quite well, flown all over the country, booked into top hotels to take every bit of distraction out of their planning for games, and they still make mistakes.
Just last week views around the nation saw two “hands to the face” penalties that resulted in two significant first downs that allowed a team to kick a last-second, game-winning field goal. Both calls were obviously, indisputably wrong and the league later admitted it.
It was tough to watch, but those same calls might cause an even worse reaction at a Pop Warner game.
The NFL officials won’t quit, they will try to do better. At our level, the abuse gets to the point that it’s no longer worth the commitment.
We might be on the cusp of finding out what happens when Big Island officials decided enough is enough.
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