Give refs a break

From the sideline

Posted: Friday, September 26, 2003

Hey high school sports fans -- more specifically, those fans who have taken to screaming at referees for every call when their team is being beaten -- please do just one thing for me: Before telling the referees just how you feel about what they're doing, take a few moments to learn the rules.

Case in point: In high school football, holding is what's known as a spot foul. A 10-yard penalty is marked off from the spot of the infraction, not the line of scrimmage. So yes, it is possible for a team to get a first down even with a holding call, and the referee shouldn't be lambasted for marking it off correctly.

Fans also should take note that high school football rules -- indeed, high school rules for most sports -- can vary, sometimes dramatically, from rules used for the same sport in intercollegiate or professional competition.

For example, high school football pass interference rules make no distinction between catchable or uncatchable passes, and when it comes to intentional grounding, the "tackle box" only applies to the NFL game.

Indeed, the National Federation of State High School Associations, which oversees the rules used in most high school sports, provides on its Web site a five-page document detailing the differences between high school and college football rules.

I mention that to say this: Maybe, just maybe, the men and women who dedicate their time to officiating high school sports here on the Kenai Peninsula deserve a little slack, if not downright respect. They might just know what they're doing after all.

I find it ironic that, week in and week out, a referee can show up for a game at which a couple hundred people will claim, some quite vocally, that they can do a better job, yet very rarely do I see any one of those 200 critics showing the wherewithal to don the zebra stripes and step between the lines. In fact, I'd say any new faces I've seen have been officials from other parts of the state down to help out for a weekend.

Now, I'm not arguing that the referees here on the peninsula are perfect. But I am saying that they generally do a pretty good job. I've been to my fair share of sporting events over the past five years, and I have yet to see a referee's call determine the outcome of a game.

No, the things that determine the outcome of a game are focus and execution on the part of the athletes involved. I have yet to see a referee prevent a player from making a block, hitting a free throw or hustling back on defense.

The referees may seem to be a logical scapegoat, but if the opposing team is bigger, faster, stronger, more skilled and better prepared, is that really who deserves the blame?

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