When sports fans go 'out of bounds'

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Across the country there is a shortage of high school officials.

Some states during football season have to split games up on Thursday's and Friday's, just because there are not enough officials to go around.

There are many reasons for this epidemic, and some fingers point towards the stands.

So I ask myself, is there a problem in Arkansas? So I picked up the phone, called the head of officials at the Arkansas Activities Association in Little Rock. I called local athletic directors. All were willing to give feedback but none wanted to get in front of the camera.

Then I approached the guys blowing the whistle, the refs themselves.

I went courtside to get answers.

You hear their whistles?

Their calls impact the games we love. And we don't always like the calls.

"On dead  ball lets make sure we have eyes on ten players," local official Mark Hardin shouted out as he and his colleagues went through their pre-game routine.

Our first reaction is always they're out to get us.

"I don't know one official that would intentionally cheat a team."

"Coaches check the book make sure we have no surprises tonight," Brad Davidson said as he handed out instruction. He was part of the crew working with Hardin that night.

But without high school officials. We don't have organized sports. It'd basically be recess.

We spoke to officials but I wanted more answers so I got in my car and met up with Ronnie Bellomy, a retired official.

Nowadays, Bellomy is an observer at games and is responsible for scheduling games for our local refs and umpires.

"If you haven't tried officiating you ought to just put the shirt on and just see what's that all about," added Bellomy.

Other states are struggling to get new officials each year, but surprising, the numbers are up in Arkansas. Three hundred more officials this season across the board.

But its still a problem at times here in Arkansas.

James Bickham was the third member of Davidson and Hardin's crew the night I observed. He was locked in, shouting out things to remember for the crew as they were getting ready. "Blatant fouls, blatant obvious fouls we have to get."

"There are nights where we don't have enough officials to go around," added Bellomy.

Retention is the biggest concern.

"The triple A has worked hard and diligently to try and get younger officials into the game," Davidson said.

Older officials were going to camps and getting properly trained, but that process is on the decline.

"Our officials are never going to call a perfect game. we train year in, year out. We take tests, we go to camps, we are trying to do the very best we can," Bellomy said.

"Young guy stepping onto the floor for the first, second time, they are a deer in a headlight. Don't know what is about to hit them," Davidson told us.

Bellomy brought up another good point. "If we continue to go down this path and our sportsmanship continues to deteriorate, I feel even our veteran officials will want to come back and do the game."

To give the viewers a better idea of what officials are up against, I simulated the fan.

"Ref what are you doing?

How'd you miss that call?

Are you blind?

Do you need glasses?

How did you not see that call?

We've all heard that before right?

Sometimes we cross the line.

We've even heard this.

"I hope you choke on your whistle."

Whoa timeout. What are we doing folks?

"I've been doing it 19 straight years and in those 19 years I've thrown out two people and one was last year," Hardin said.

"He said he's only thrown out two in his career and I doubled him last Monday night, so I had four. First time I had to do that in a long time," Davidson added.

"Its beginning to get worse not one or two bad apples. We are seeing more and more violence involved in games and more and more violence in stands," Bellomy said.

"It was bad and it got personal, and the person doing it was applauding an official getting hurt," Davidson recollected.

"We have had situations where my veteran officials don't want to go to certain schools because of situations and sometimes it gets racial and don't want to get to that point," Bellomy said.

Sometimes our emotions get the best of us we lash out at the officials. What if their family member is sitting right next to you?

You probably wouldn't even know it.

Hardin then shared a story with us on how things can get personal.

"She came to a game. She was sitting in the stands, and a players mom just wore me out, an entire game. I never heard it, never paid attention to it, and then we leave the game and go to a local restaurant on our way back to Olive Branch (MS) and guess who is sitting behind us at the restaurant. The same lady that was yelling at me all night long and it was hard for my wife to sit there and stay quiet after this lady ripped me for three hours. And I used to bring my kids all the time, I don't anymore, for that very reason."

And social media is a problem too.

"Absolutely, it compounds it a hundred-fold. I mean every time, every night there's something on Facebook about a basketball game somewhere. Most of it is positive but every now and then we see the bad side of it," Davidson said.

We don't want to embarrass anyone but we saw this (Facebook) post targeted at a local official.

"You better watch your back because we are coming after you. We know where you live and know where your kids go to school."

"We have great fans, don't get me wrong, I'm not picking on the fans tonight, I'm just saying hey there are some issues we need to change in order for us to continue to build officiating crews for us to have plenty of officials to go around night in night out," Bellomy said.

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