In this February 2020 photo, an official waits for the resumption of play during a North regional basketball tournament game at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

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The “great resignation” sadly got a little greater this week, with legendary quarterback Tom Brady joining the wave of people who have retired or left their jobs.

Brady has earned his moniker as the GOAT, the “greatest of all time.” He’s had a storied career and he deserves all the accolades.

But Brady isn’t the only one walking away from the game. A much less-heralded, underappreciated and even maligned group has seen its numbers dwindle  nationally and in Maine: referees.

The COVID-19 pandemic and all of its complications have certainly played a role in this trend. But the challenge of finding referees for school sports pre-dates COVID, and has undoubtedly gotten an unfortunate assist from unsportsmanlike and unruly behavior directed at the officials.

Edward Little Athletic Director Todd Sampson told the BDN editorial board on Thursday that the officials shortage is the worst he’s seen. He also said that taunting and blatant disrespect directed toward officials is as at least as bad, if not worse, than ever.

“I think we’re at a tipping point,” Sampson said. “We’ve just got to be nicer.”

He’s right, and he’s not asking for much. This should be a layup for people in the stands.

There are only so many things we can control individually in a global pandemic. No one person is going to resolve workforce shortages themselves. But everyone can make the choice not to make a bad situation worse for the people just trying to do their jobs during a lousy time. That means parents, coaches and fans all deciding to give the refs a break already.

2017 national survey of more than 17,000 sports officials found that more than 80 percent of respondents thought sportsmanship was either getting worse or not improving. If a Feb. 1 tweet this week from Portland Press Herald sports reporter Mike Lowe is any indication, this issue has not exactly disappeared from the stands.

“Just sitting here listening to all the fans complaining about the officiating,” Lowe said. “There is a shortage of officials. Stop yelling, take the test, grab a whistle and get on the court. You’re not helping right now.”

We’re not the only ones who agree. A few school athletic departments echoed his message, stressing just how dire the referee shortage is right now.

“We’ve had 4 games in the last 7 days canceled due to no available officials. 1 hockey, 3 middle school basketball,” the account for the Brewer athletic department responded to Lowe’s tweet Tuesday night. “Today’s [middle school basketball] game was canceled as school dismissed and the kids were gathering their things to load the bus. Maybe a tough lesson for parents to start learning.”

The Edward Little High School athletic department also chimed in from Auburn with a plea to fans.

“Please, please stop yelling [at] officials! We are near crisis level [and] games will need to be canceled if the shortage continues,” the department tweeted.

It’s always much easier to sit on the sidelines and criticize than it is to get down there and do the work. We would know — we’re editorial writers! But we manage to provide input each day without yelling. We hope that people will ease up on the refs and ease up on each other. Things are tense enough right now.

If you catch yourself getting angry at a school sporting event, imagine Dikembe Mutombo wagging his finger at you to stop, saying, “No, no, no.” Maybe then you’ll remember these are games, being played by kids, and officiated by people who are doing their best in the same mixed up world as the rest of us.

Let the referees officiate, let the players play and don’t make an already challenging situation worse.

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...