Rowdy parents to blame for fewer referees, says MHSAA

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LANSING, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) – “The adults are the worst behaved people in the buildings,” says John Johnson, a Communications Director with the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA).

Johnson says in recent years, parental behavior at high school sporting events in Michigan has steadily deteriorated, and is increasingly cited as a reason for referees, umpires and officials as a reason for not returning to the job.

“The problem is right now we don’t have enough officials,” Johnson adds, referring to what he describes as an increasingly hostile climate at sporting events.

Most recently, that hostile climate was on full display at Pennfield High School during a men’s basketball game, when adult and parent behavior took such a sudden turn, the game had to be stopped and several people had to be escorted out of the building.

In a video obtained by the Newschannel 3 I-Team through a Freedom of Information Act Request, one parent can be seen walking out of the bleachers and onto the basketball court, appearing to scream at a referee inside the Pennfield High School gymnasium.

Pennfield’s Director of Athletics, Brett Steele acknowledged the problem, and said it raised major concerns.

“It’s just not what high school athletics are supposed to be about,” said Steele.

For a recent game following the incident, Steele decided to give a speech to a crowd at Harper Creek High School, along with Harper Creek’s Director of Athletics, to speak to both parents and students in the bleachers about keeping things civil and fun.

“Our expectation is that everyone here will cheer in a positive way for the team,” he told the crowd. “Tonight’s game is just that, it’s only a game, it’s not a life or death matter, but a contest between two neighboring schools,” he added.

Over at the MHSAA in Lansing, Communications Director John Johnson says high-schools need to take a pro-active approach to deescalating tempers.

“I think as the volume in the discord as a society in general has raised, I think it follows in sports,” he said.

Johnson says the MHSAA continues to promote civility and positivity through awards given to “positive” cheering sections across the state, but says an added message from administrators to parents can be extremely helpful going forward.

“You’d never go into a classroom and yell things at a teacher that you yell at a coach or an official during a game…Why is it different just because you’re in a gymnasium?”

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