IHSA asks fans to "cool it" as officiating numbers decline

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Dave Gilliland has been reffing boys basketball games on and off since the 1970's.

The former Belvidere head coach and Stockton superintendent always tries to keep a cheery attitude, but he says fans occasionally spoil the fun.

"The kids are playing sports for lifelong lessons, some of which can be learned in the classroom and some of which can't, but sometimes it's the adults that take all of the fun or take all of the pleasure out of it," said Gilliland.

And because of that behavior officials may be calling it quits.

According to a recent survey by the National Association of Sports Officials, Gilliland along with 75 percent of his peers say "adult behavior" is the main reason for hanging up the whistle.

The numbers do not lie.

Since 2011, there has been more than a 14 percent drop in available referees in Illinois and in the five largest sports in terms of officiating, baseball has lost more than one thousand umpires, more than a 24 percent decline.

"We're adults whether it's the officials, coaches, the athletic directors or the parents and we need to behave like adults and set the tone and set the example," said Rockford Public Schools Director of Athletics Mat Parker.

Parker says the abuse needs to stop, but there also has to be a collective effort to solve the other main issue: not enough young people are donning the black and white stripes.

After only two years, 80 percent of all young referees walk away.

"Parents have always been challenging officials in any events of youth sports," said Auburn track and field head coach Kevin Anderson. "I just think the whole thing is getting officials who want to take the time to learn the rules and stay up to date on everything."

Anderson may disagree about referee mistreatment, but he does believe more needs to be done about a dying breed of officiating.

RPS 205 says it is working on building confidence in its younger crop of refs and working on a way to recruit more.

However, Gilliland, who is 61-years-old, is a part of a group which on average is in its mid-50's and he believes the time to get that done is running out.

"I foresee within the next five years that it could get worse because many of us are going to be retiring," said Gilliland. "As a parent or as a fan, you just have to try to keep reminding yourself what this is for. It's for the kids and it's part of education and it's part of what we do in schools."

Anderson also says that refs probably would not mind getting paid more. Parker said that the district recently did a survey to figure out more competitive pay.

On average, an official in the NIC-10 gets about 70 dollars per game.

Parker says over the last two years, three fans have had to be banned from attending games.