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OK, let's acknowledge right from the outset that today's topic is hardly front of mind this week when it comes to football in Arkansas.

As in the state, not the Department of Athletics at a certain hill-top institution of higher education with a porcine proclivity.

What’s the point?

The challenge of attracting people to serve as officials at high school and junior high games can be eased if fans and coaches recognize how much sporting events need them.

The trouble at the University of Arkansas when it comes to football (is that what they've been playing?) is making headlines. For now, we'll just hope for the best as the coaching search begins.

For today's thoughts, let's drop a notch to the high school and junior high levels, where hundreds of football games play out every fall as the home team invites the visitor to roll into town for a contest of strength, skills and strategy played within a set of rules everyone agrees to.

But agreeing to rules and abiding by their play-by-play application are two different things. That's where the zebras come in. Not the animal, although that would be interesting. We're talking about the officials, the often black-and-white-clad men and women who must serve as in-the-moment judge and jury to render immediate decisions on whether a game is being played according to the rules.

In the sports pages the other day was a story relating how it's getting harder to find people willing to step up to serve with the Arkansas Officials Association, which supplies officials for all sorts of sports. Around 900 of its 2,000 members officiate at football games.

It's across the board, though, that those involved recognize the diminishing pool of capable people willing to give officiating a try. Of those who do, we're told, a decent portion give it up after just a short stint.

Why? It doesn't take much imagination. Some fans have decided screaming at officials is all part of the fun.

A survey by the National Association of Sports Officials that said more than 75 percent of all high school officials say "adult behavior" is the primary reason why they quit and that 80 percent of all young officials quit after two years of officiating.

Most people, we venture, wouldn't put up with abuse from coaches or fans for the $50 to $65 per game they'll be paid in Arkansas.

Let's face it, sports fans: This is a problem.

When our junior high and high school kids get together to compete, how would we like it if no officials showed up? What would we do, put a few dads out there from each side? We're sure that would work out just fine.

What's to be done? Obviously paying a bit more is what usually helps lure people into a challenging job. But fans also have to examine the way they treat officials. We need them there, doing their best to evaluate fair play and call it like they see it when someone's not playing according to the rules.

Fans ought to cheer for their team, encourage their kids and demonstrate good sportsmanship. Collectively, we need to stop believing that berating officials is part of the fun, that it's demonstrative of "real" fans.

How about setting good examples and recognizing the value of officials to the games we all love to cheer for?

It's got to start with someone.

Commentary on 11/12/2019

Print Headline: Calling a foul

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