Colin C. Rhodes: Column: Referees deserve more respect

Oct. 26—We've all seen it.

The referee or official at a game doesn't make a good call on a play, so the fans voice their displeasure by booing and hollering at the ref that they're blind.

Sure, sometimes the refs get the call wrong. I've seen my share of blown calls while covering high school football from the sideline. I understand the frustration of parents and friends in the crowd at games when this happens, but I also understand that referees are human and prone to making mistakes.

And if we're being honest, it's not easy being a referee. You're supposed to be neutral and not influence the game, but no matter what there are going to be moments where the call you make influences the game.

I discovered this my junior year of college. I had past experience officiating basketball games at my church's basketball and soccer camps for kids from kindergarten to sixth grade, but in my junior year I volunteered to officiate a charity powderpuff football game, and, oh boy, did that not go well.

I had even worked with the Student Activities Board to come up with the rules for the game, so I should have been able to make every call I needed to. But being on the field officiating is a lot different than sitting in the stands.

For the seven-on-seven flag football powderpuff game, I was one of three officials. Being short staffed didn't help, yeah, and being the line judge wasn't easy but at least I didn't have to watch every single player and make sure they were following the rules. That's why there were multiple refs to begin with.

I remember one play in particular that stands out to me as a blown call on my end. The rule was that once a defender pulls the flag of the ball carrier to make a tackle, the defender was to return the flag to the player or incur a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty. Well, at one point, the defender made the tackle, walked over to the opponent's sideline and slammed the flag onto the ground not just in front of the coach, but in front of me too.

And I didn't throw the penalty flag. I completely missed the call because I didn't remember that rule in that moment. And I think that's something a lot of referees experience when calling games. There are so many rules to keep track of your mind blanks every so often that you make the wrong call or no-call.

Yes, that was my first time referring football, and I probably made more mistakes than the average official, but that doesn't mean the most experienced of referees don't make the same mistakes too. And when there are 22 players on a 120-by-53.3 yard field, it's hard to see everything, even with five other officials on the field to help make the right call.

And when there are people in the crowd heckling you for not making the call they want you to make, it can get annoying and distract you further unless you can tune them out. And a reason why there's a shortage of referees is the unsportsmanlike behavior by people in the stands, according to a 2022 report from the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Yes, there are times where making the wrong call is unacceptable, but if you think you can do a better job than the referees already on the field, I challenge you to apply to be an official. I'm sure you'll find it's a lot harder than you expect it to be.

So the next time you go to a game and the ref makes what you think is a bad call, remember that they're human and make mistakes, just like you. Be respectful to the officials. I'm sure you'd want them to be respectful to you too.

Reach Colin C. Rhodes at 304-367-2548