Shortage of referees causing cancellations and endangering youth sports leagues

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) – The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the shortage of officials in youth sports, but organizations say parents are also part of the problem. Now, some sports associations are taking a zero-tolerance approach.

“I don’t want my kids or anyone else’s kids to think it’s okay to talk, curse, berate or physically attack a referee for a bad call,” Billy Mayhall said.

Mayhall’s son plays baseball for Troy Buchanan High School and runs the St. Louis Youth Sports Outreach organization. He sees firsthand the impact of the shortage of referees.

“They struggle to have referees on the pitch because, to be honest with you, nobody wants the abuse that comes with it,” he says.

Some high schools have been forced to cancel games, while others are moving to one referee per game. At the Athletic Boys Club (ABC) of St. Ann, they probably don’t schedule any games on Saturday due to the shortage.

“We don’t have enough officials,” said Don Coffey, vice president of ABC, which has teams from 4-year-olds through high school.

In Arnold, the sports association has released a new code of conduct which states that any player, coach or parent found to have violated its rules will be ejected from the game.

“We are very serious about our board members, our field team and our referee team, and you will not be welcome in our facilities if you cannot behave appropriately. If you can’t contain yourself, it’s in your best interest to step down, go home,” the Arnold Athletic Association wrote on its social media page.

“I really hope a lot of people will follow what Arnold is doing, take over your fields,” Mayhall said.

Greg Coleman’s son plays baseball for Francis Howell and wants to be an umpire, but Coleman says he’s worried.

“He is only 16 years old. Make a bad call and someone disagrees with it and takes it out on them? said Coleman.

As schools raise umpire pay and the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) waives the $60 fee to join the association, some believe better spectator behavior could go a long way to solving the problems.

“You’re going to get where our kids can’t play the game they love because you think little Johnny got a bad call,” Mayhall said.

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