Tourney time at the Cross Insurance Center. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

A friend of mine told me a story from when he was coaching youth softball this past summer. The game had just one umpire who was doing his best on a hot and steamy summer afternoon.

But this poor guy was taking an absolute beat down from the parents, and even some of the players. It got so ugly and my friend felt so bad he went over and addressed the situation.

He was ready to stop the game. His lecture was enough to soothe the angry mob and the umpire generously hung tough, perhaps persevered, and the game continued.

Parents harassing the umpires and referees of youth sports is not a new thing. But I bet I could easily make the case that it’s far worse today than it was a few years ago.

The problem is now in this post-pandemic world and with the proliferation of social media, people are just mean.

Plus many parents are pretty sure that their fifth and sixth graders are destined for full Division I scholarships in whatever sport they choose. It’s just gotten out of hand.

The state of Maine as a whole has a massive problem right now attracting and retaining sports officials. I know, firsthand, several examples of middle school games being postponed because no referees were available. Varsity obviously gets first shot and it’s all they can do to get officials to cover those games at times.

So the men and women who spend their evenings and weekends boldly officiating middle school and youth sports, including the excessive number of travel teams, are doing the best they can.

But in the eyes of the know-it-all parents who are seeking lost sports glory through their children, they are not good enough.

What inspired me to address this was this Facebook post I saw from Sean Smith. Check it out.

“Spent my afternoon yesterday being verbally assaulted, mocked, threatened, belittled and yelled at….while basically volunteering my time reffing 5TH AND 6TH GRADE TRAVEL BASKETBALL.

I compiled a list of things I could be doing on a Sunday besides being helping kids in a loud gym for 10 hours on my one day off a week.


2-Spend time with my family


4-Learn a new language

678-Organize my socks

749-Stub my toe repeatedly on a fireplace

2693-Referee youth basketball

Thousands of things I could be doing….thousands.

And we wonder why there is a referee shortage in all sports. We don’t do it for the money either. Trust me on that.”

Well said.

This isn’t a new problem. Almost 30 years ago when I worked as a sports reporter at WLBZ TV in Bangor, Lee Goldberg sent me to a local town to shoot some highlights of Little League baseball.

About midway through the game some dad lost his mind at the umpire. The umpire was ready to call the game but eventually the disgruntled dad left. It was one of the most embarrassing things I’ve seen in person and I went back to Channel 2 that evening and told Lee I would no longer be shooting local Little League baseball highlights. Kids at that age shouldn’t be on TV and the parents are off their rocker.

We never went again.

Look, I have a daughter who plays sports. Middle school. No travel. She’s an average player for a school where athletics are not a priority.

On one occasion this past spring I did get on a softball umpire. Probably more than I should have. My issue was I didn’t think he was trying very hard. In my opinion, he didn’t want to be there, and he wasn’t putting forth much of an effort. In my mind you can blow some calls, but as long as you’re giving it your best shot and hustling it’s fine.

I tell my daughter it’s ok to lose a game as long as you try wicked hard. I expect the same from officials. Either way, I was still probably out of line.

I will try to do better.

I suggest many of you parents reading this do the same. Although I suspect most of you won’t.

You need to get a grip because if a few calls don’t go your way in a sixth grade game it’s not gonna hold your son or daughter back from any kind of future athletic glory.

Let kids be kids and enjoy themselves. Be appreciative of the adults who take the time to officiate because as Sean points out above, there’s many other things they could be doing.

Jeff Solari, Sports contributor

Jeff Solari is the president and founder of the Sports Chowdah, Maine’s only free, weekly sports email newsletter. Recently, the Mount Desert Island native was the co-host of "The Drive" on 92.9 FM in...