‘We need more officials’: Refs, coaches support bipartisan bill that penalizes harassing officials

Parents, coaches and fans who take things too far with a referee after a call they don’t like could be hit with a misdemeanor soon.

A bipartisan bill in the state’s Legislature would make sure of it, and the legislation has a lot of support in many levels of the sports world, including from the Wisconsin Athletic Directors Association, the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, according to a news release from the WIAA on Wednesday.

Should harassing officials be a misdemeanor? At least 5 legislators in Wis say YES. Under the proposed legislation, harassing/intimidating a sports official in response to action taken could land you w/40 hours of community service & anger management counseling. #News3Now #wipol pic.twitter.com/fxhzabqJc5

— Amy Reid (@amyreidreports) December 12, 2019

The release said the bill would make it a Class A misdemeanor “to harass or intimidate a sports official in response to action taken or with intent to influence a referee, umpire, judge or anyone serving similar functions.” The WIAA listed five legislators who have signed on to support the bill in co-sponsorship, Rep. Don Vruwink, Rep. Todd Novak, Rep. Lisa Subeck, Sen. Andre Jacque and Sen. Jeff Smith.

The consequences of getting this misdemeanor would be 40 hours of community service and potentially anger management counseling.

Local referees joined the National Association of Sports Officials in saying it could be a good idea.

“You try to tune it out as much as possible but sometimes you can’t,” said Trevor Kramolis, an official and coach at Stoughton High School. “Especially when it gets loud and the game gets a little heated, it’s definitely something you can hear and take in.”

The National Association of Sports Officials surveyed more than 17,000 officials across the country and found almost half of referees (45 percent of female refs and 48 percent of male refs) have felt unsafe or feared for their safety in connection to officiating. The association also found 13 percent of officials have been assaulted by a fan, coach or player.

Kramolis said it’s enough to make people not want to do it.

“It’s not like you’re getting a huge payday after being a referee,” he said. “You love the sport. You love being around kids and helping out and teachable moments, but when you’re constantly getting that barking and people saying unneeded things, unnecessary stuff, I can see how that can add up.”

Brad Pickett, a teacher and coach at Stoughton High School sees the view from the sidelines: Referees not wanting to deal with unsportsmanlike fans means fewer referees at all. He said he’s seen that lead to games having to be canceled because there was no ref to officiate.

“If (the bill) has the ability to get more officials, I think it’s a good thing,” Pickett said. “because we do need more officials.”

The bill is still in its early stages, so there is no timeline for when it could come to a vote.

Regardless, it’s worth a reminder.

“People are going to make mistakes,” Pickett said. “We all make mistakes, and I think just understanding that officials are trying to do the best they can.”

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