Apr 22, 2022 - Sports

Massive referee exodus hits youth sports

Illustration: Sarah Grillo

Referees often get an earful from fans and players, but the behavior has gotten so bad in youth sports that they're now quitting en masse.

State of play: 50,000 high school referees (roughly 20% of the nationwide total) quit between 2018 and 2021, per the National Federation of State High School Associations, NYT reports.

  • 60% of officials surveyed in 2020 said their top reason for quitting would be verbal abuse from parents and fans.
  • Sadly, verbal abuse isn't even the worst of it: Last year, a high school football player tackled a ref; three weeks ago, kids and parents attacked a basketball ref. The list goes on.

Why it matters: This exodus has led to canceled games across the country, threatening youth sports just as they've begun returning to normal after two pandemic-stricken years.

Context: This crisis began well before March 2020, but the pandemic exacerbated it. Some older refs feared returning for health reasons, while younger ones left the oft-abusive gig behind amid the shutdown.

The last word: "This is a nightmare across all sports," Dana Pappas, director of officiating services for NFHS, told NYT.

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