After officiating thousands of youth, high school and college soccer, hockey and lacrosse games for over two decades, I am writing with a warning of impending failure and collapse of our current interscholastic sports model.

We are at a tipping point. Our senior officials are rapidly aging out in many of these popular sports, and our efforts to recruit new officials have failed to keep up with the number of retiring senior officials.

Here are the facts:

• Senior officials are rapidly aging out.
• Recruitment and retention of new officials is not at pace with retiring officials.
• Fewer officials means fewer games.
• No officials mean no games.

Here is the cause and effect:

• Poor sportsmanship and inappropriate behavior by coaches, parents and players.
• Marginal compensation.
• Lack of organizational leadership and accountability at the clubs and high schools.

As the lead for recruiting new officials in hockey, soccer and lacrosse for the past several years, I have met with, talked to and reached out to hundreds of potential candidates.  The No. 1 response I get is “Are you crazy? You guys get treated like (expletive).”

There it is. Perception becomes reality and often the truth.

If the athletic field is an extension of the classroom, then why is poor behavior tolerated in our youth sports? As adults we need to ensure that all participants, including game officials, feel safe and are protected from unreasonable and inappropriate behavior.  In other words, a “safe space” to compete, perform and grow for all involved. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case today.

I appreciate the effort sports organizations have made to ensure players are protected from sexual predators, and fully endorse fingerprinting and background checks. However, I question why a similar effort has not been made to ensure the protection of officials. I am going out on a limb by assuming that the harassment of officials far exceeds the number of sexual advances by officials toward student athletes by a factor of 1,000 to 1.

Eliminating inappropriate behavior in our sports organizations need not be costly or involved.  It simply needs to start from the top down.  I would like to offer the following ideas toward a working solution.

• Establish a written zero tolerance with an accountability process from the top down.
• Require signed contracts from coaches, players and parents acknowledging a written code of conduct.
• Enforce stiff penalties for violations of the code of conduct, including suspension, fines and banishment.
• Establish consistent training and mechanics for officials of all sports on effective ways to deal with sportsmanship issues.

We are at a tipping point and we need action. Radio ads or recruiting posters are not effective in recruiting new officials. We need to stop the yelling and berating of our kids, coaches and officials. This is not tolerated anywhere but the sports field. It is degrading, and defining sports today.

Let’s take action, support our state motto and lead the nation by holding coaches, players, parents and officials accountable for their behavior on and off the field. This ensures a safe space for everyone who participates in our sports.

Ron Kramer of South Portland is a retired federal investigator and police officer, who now runs a private technology firm. He is a collegiate hockey, soccer and lacrosse official; is on the Maine High School Hockey Board, and is a member of the Northern California Lacrosse Board, where he lives part of the year.


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