New bill would create added protections for refs of youth sports

ST. LOUIS - Just like professional sports, tensions run high during youth sporting events. A new bill could make players' biggest supporters keep their opinions in the bleachers where they belong.

"We are losing officials at a rapid rate," said Mark Probst, director of area referees for the St. Louis Officials Association.

More than ever, Probst said referees in all sports are putting down the whistle and potential refs are thinking twice.

"For this coming fall, we cannot cover Friday night football games," he said. "We will have to be moving games to Thursday night. The schools are finding out about this because officials are retiring early and we can't get new officials in."

Out of every 10 refs who first put on the black and white striped shirt, Probst can only count on two of them still calling the shots after three years on the job.

Probst said sometimes physical confrontations between referees, parents, coaches, and players as the straw that pushes them away.

"We've had issues with parents coming down out of the bleachers and if you're a young official, it scares you," he said.

For that reason, a bill is now on the Missouri house floor that would create extra protections for refs.

The measure would elevate the criminal penalties for people convicted of assaulting a youth sports official.

Harry Carr, a 40-year veteran referee, said that's the sort of official ruling that would make sports better for everyone.

"I think it's a great idea that we would get more backing and more protection," Carr said. "Not so much for officials, but for the good of the game."

"Any sort of deterrent for a fan to come down and threaten a sports official we have to have a special law like that," Probst said. "Get excited to watch your kids but let them enjoy the moment."

The director will be holding a referee recruitment night on Wednesday, April 4 at Parkway West High School. The event starts at 6 p.m. and is for all sports.