Gunn-column-logo-1Maybe it’s something about basketball.

Of course people yell at high school referees at all types of sporting events. And most of the time the comments are pretty ignorant.

But in sports like football, soccer and hockey, the refs are some distance away, and probably can’t hear a lot of the stupid statements coming from the bleachers.

But basketball is different. The fans sit right on top of the action, and a lot of schools draw pretty small crowds, so everyone can hear it when someone starts scolding the officials.

I find it embarrassing, sometimes to the point of being intolerable.

A few weeks ago I covered a game at the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame holiday basketball tournament at Reeths-Puffer High School. The crowd, for the most part, was well behaved.

But there were several middle-aged women in the stands who were obviously rooting for the Muskegon Big Reds. They were very loud throughout the game, which would have been fine if they were simply cheering on their team. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case.

Every time Muskegon was called for a foul, they started hooting and hollering at the poor referees.

I think they should have been escorted from the building, without a refund for the price of their ticket.

I remember years ago covering a girls basketball game at Orchard View High School, where most of the few dozen fans in attendance lost their composure and started screaming at the refs. Before long the athletes, following the example of the so-called adults in the crowd, started whining and complaining to the refs, as well.

Everyone in the bleachers should have been cleared from the building before the game was allowed to continue. It was a huge embarrassment for high school sports.

There was no question that the game was poorly officiated. The referees made one obvious bad call after another, against both teams.

But so what?

We’re talking about teen-age athletic events, folks. The main idea is to teach teamwork, sportsmanship and respect for authority. How can the kids learn any of that if the people in the bleachers – quite often their parents – angrily belittle the referees every time they make a call?

I know the old argument – people pay the price of a ticket, and they have the right to cheer, boo or criticize anyone they want. That’s certainly true at pro sporting events, where the players and referees are among the best in their professions, and make a lot of money doing what they do. They willingly expose themselves to public criticism. It’s all part of the game.

I suppose the same could be said for high level college sports, where tickets are expensive and the universities make a great deal of money.

But what kind of moron would embarrass themselves (and the young athletes) by sitting in the stands and screaming about the calls in a high school game? Unfortunately there are far too many of them.

Granted, the quality of officiating in high school sports is sometimes not so good. But what do people expect at the prep level? These folks are making peanuts for their efforts – maybe $60 per game – and that’s not enough money to attract NBA-quality refs.

We’re lucky we can find people with thick enough skin to officiate these games.

High school players make a lot of mistakes over the course of a season, because they are high school players. We forgive them because they are still learning at the lower levels of their sport.

The same can be said for high school referees. They do not do this for a living. These are mostly people with full-time day jobs, basically volunteering their time at night so the high school games can be officiated.

They do not promise perfection. Some are still learning how to ref, just like the players are learning to play. This is high school. There’s a learning curve for just about everyone involved.

Can’t we all just take a pill and relax a little bit, instead of falling all over each other when a ref fails to call an obvious infraction?

They say kids learn about life through high school sports, and I think there’s a lot of truth to that. One lesson is fundamental – wherever these kids go in life and whatever they do, there will usually be other people in charge. Sometimes those people won’t be completely competent, and sometimes they will make questionable decisions.

But they have been designated to make the decisions, and employees must respect that. Those that don’t will quickly be shown the door. That’s the way life goes.

Good high school coaches convey a simple message to their players – the referees are in charge, they make the calls, and their decisions must be respected.  If anybody questions a ref, it should be the coach, and that should be done in a respectful manner.

When coaches, players and fans lose their composure and start screaming at referees, the entire lesson about accepting decisions we can’t control is lost. Then the whole purpose of high school competition is lost.

That should never be allowed to happen.

For those people who just can’t attend a children’s game without yelling at the poor refs, all In can say is get a life, or at least some serious counseling. And if you can’t contribute to the “positive environment” that the Michigan High School Athletic Association calls for, please just stay away from the games.