High school athletics, basketball in particular, has a problem – and it has nothing to do with the play on the court. Instead, the problem takes place with the fans. I am talking about the loud, vocal fans who yell non-stop – not at the play of the student-athletes or the coaching – but rather directly at game officials. And while most fans act responsibly, the ones who do not are also the ones everyone can hear or see.

I know I have covered this topic before, but the problem has not gone away. In fact, it may be getting worse around Howard County. I will not single-out any one school, but more than one have had issues with fans this season. Our area is not alone as the number of fans being ejected from IHSAA sporting events has doubled this school year compared to last year.

“Everyone associated with education-based athletics in our state has an obligation to promote and demonstrate proper sportsmanship,” IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox told me. “While this focus typically is on coaches and student-athletes, there is an increasing concern about the behavior of fans in the stands.”

The stance of the IHSAA is attending a high school sporting event in the state of Indiana is a privilege, not a right. Cox said that abuse towards officials will not be tolerated – and it sets a bad example for the student-athletes on the court.

“We have a collective duty to the impressionable student-athletes we observe to act in a responsible and supportive manner,” said Cox. He added that fans should, “refrain from boorish displays that erode the interscholastic experience for everyone.”

Per guidelines available on the IHSAA website, parents (and fans) should, “Realize that a ticket is a privilege to observe a contest and support high school activities. It is not a license to verbally assault anyone or act in an outrageous manner.”

I have talked to athletic directors in the area, and they have had several issues with fans and the way they have acted. As one AD told me, “We have to do better as a school, and our community has to do better representing the school and our student-athletes.”

Please note: I am not talking about the occasional scream at an official on a questionable call. I know I have publicly protested calls made by officials in the past and have written about specific instances – but those are one-off instances. What I am talking about is the harsh, and sometimes non-stop, screaming that is oftentimes directed squarely at officials and can be personal, and sometimes threatening, in nature. As the IHSAA states, “Respect the decisions made by officials and learn the rules of the game to better understand their decisions.”

Remember, officials are human and are doing the best that they can. They are not attempting to influence a game for one team or another. They are not always right and – for my official friends please don’t take this the wrong way – there is a reason an official is at the NBA, NCAA, IHSAA varsity, IHSAA junior varsity or middle school level. Just like a nine to five job, officials typically move up the chain based on skill levels.

I really get peeved when fans berate junior varsity or middle school officials who are out there supporting our student-athletes. Why should young officials want to continue in the profession if they are getting screamed at in a junior varsity game? Or why would a seasoned official want to continue to work at the JV level with some of the abuse I hear. It is no wonder there is a shortage of officials in most sports across the state.

Please note, an official is working a game – key on the word “working.” If someone would walk into nearly any business in the country and yell and scream at employees, the business would call the police and have the person removed. Why is a high school basketball game any different considering that the court is a game officials place of work?

Basketball games should be an enjoyable experience for everyone in attendance and reacting to a questionable call is fine. But do fans really need to scream at the top of their lungs, “You are terrible, ref” or “That’s horrible, I am going to kick…” Have some respect, just like you would demand respect in your own workspace.

Until next time, remember to keep the man and ship in sports – and I’ll see you at the game.

Dean Hockney is the publisher of the Sports Journal of Central Indiana. You can follow him on Twitter (@Sports_Journal) for the latest in local sports news and game reports.


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