NSAA survey highlights sportsmanship challenges

Finding experienced refs and game officials is becoming more of a challenge in high school sports and it's getting worse.
Published: Sep. 24, 2022 at 11:06 AM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - With live feeds and mobile phones, eyes are everywhere at high school sporting events, and that could be a good thing just so people can see how tough its become for officials.

“Sportsmanship is a huge issue in our current landscape,” NSAA official and board of directors member Troy Unzicker said. “We struggle getting officials in many sports, and a lot of that blame is being presented to us is based off of sportsmanship of players, coaches, and community.”

Unzicker spoke on the NSAA Twitter feed as part of a week highlighting the efforts of officials in the state. The Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA) designated the week of September 19-24 as Fall Officials Appreciation Week. They also shared the results of a survey of NSAA officials, which raised some concerns over the issue of sportsmanship.

The survey of NSAA officials shows that 31% of those who responded won’t work at some schools because of poor sportsmanship in the stands or on the field. About the same number have considered quitting due to what they experience on the field or in the stands.

The results put a great deal of focus on the responsibility of administrators and coaches.

“You definitely see people get out of hand, but I’ve been doing this long enough you kind of know just gotta kind of ignore it,” Brian Arvin said.

Arvin officiates football and basketball full-time, and soccer part-time. He said he hasn’t personally experienced much in the way of abuse in his twenty years calling games in Nebraska but understands some of his peers have faced serious issues.

“My personality, I’m kind of thick-skinned, I let stuff roll off my back, and it doesn’t bother me as much,” Arvin said. “I can see how it would bother some people, you just kind of know it comes with the territory.”

Scott Spurgeon has also been wearing the stripes for twenty years and says he is starting to see some organizations stand up to reign in the unruly.

“Especially with youth ball they’re starting to monitor that a lot more, and if things get out of hand, they have monitors there that put them right out and tell them they have to go,” Spurgeon said. “A lot of times, you’re on the football field [when fans get abusive], but we’re on the field and it doesn’t bother ya.”

Both men say they stick around because of their passion for youth sports. Spurgeon said he enjoys following young athletes from youth ball through high school.

While the NSAA and other organizations are citing poor sportsmanship and particularly abusive fans for a shortage of new officials. The best situations tend to come as a result of the officials themselves, making a point to communicate with coaches at all times.

“We really rely on coaches to set the tenor for our teams and I see that the players and the coaches really do a great job with that,” Unzicker said. “Then we rely on our administrators to step up, and you have to be able to go up tell a fan, ‘hey, that’s not appropriate.’”

“I have great relationships with a lot of the ADs and coaches,” Arvin said. “Its come with a certain level of respect, if you give it, you can take it the same.”