Intramural officials need respect from team players

By Kevin Spitz

Participating in sports is great. Athletes get to engage in exercise, learn perseverance and practice teamwork, but more and more now sports are showing their ugly side through coach tirades and referee assaults. This problem stretches from coast to coast, and the University of Illinois is no exception.

A big reason for on-field issues here is that you find many people who were competitive athletes in high school but chose to come here for academics rather than continue with athletics. In the case of football and basketball, there is no alternative club sport to join, and competition between intramural squads runs high.

On a cultural level, I believe it begins with parents who get way too hyped up and involved in Little League. As an umpire myself, I remember being 12 and having a parent berate me for sending his child back to third base because of the rule that said he was “frozen” once the ball got back to the pitcher’s mound. Surely that is no example to set for the 7-year-old children competing in the game. So this attitude gets passed down and the University’s intramural referees get stuck with the brunt of it.

“No matter what call you make someone is not happy about it,” said Rick Ramos, an intramural official. “And the further into the game it goes, teams think you’re just out to get them.”

You see, at every other level players on the field have someone to keep them in check – their coach. In intramurals, you sometimes see coaches, but they are usually friends of the players and often just another person to complain about calls. At a higher level, coaches are the main contact between a team and the official. They keep players from yelling about calls and can create consequences for players who are not disciplined appropriately through the course of the game.

It’s true that at other levels coaches can create quite a buzz when they yell at officials, but it is almost always controlled and with a certain purpose. Brad Kaye, a friend of mine who is an Illinois High School Association and intramural official said: “In high school, coaches will yell at you, but if you are able to explain the answers to their questions they let it go. In intramurals, complaints are without direction. The players don’t know the rules and just assume that you’re wrong.”

In intramural sports, a technical foul for swearing results in nothing but laughter from the athletes. In high school basketball, a technical foul most certainly includes discipline from the coach and possible IHSA sanction.

And while there are some consequences for ejections in intramurals, they just aren’t enough. If a player gets thrown out of an intramural game for unsportsmanlike conduct, he can’t resume play or enter a campus recreation facility until he meets with the assistant director for events and intramural sports.

Most likely the athlete will get a stern talking to and resume play with a slap on the wrist. In the case of students who are going to graduate soon, they could care less and use their last loss as their chance to go as crazy as Bobby Knight.

Emotions can run understandably high during any sporting event, but sometimes it gets ridiculous. Some referees I spoke to have purposely gotten rides home at night because they worry about their safety, and it is not uncommon during the course of a season for police to be called to diffuse a situation.

The silliest thing about it is that in the end all they are playing for is a bit of pride and a shirt that says they’re an intramural champion.

“When things get out of hand I always say ‘I’m not trying to rob you of intramural glory. I’m just trying to do my job,'” Ramos said.

Other refs are able to shrug off the insults too.

“This is their only competitive outlet, and they weren’t any good in high school,” said Kyle Bent, a senior referee for the University’s Division of Campus Recreation. “This is their time to shine.”

With a smirk, senior official Meg Delaney said the players are just “reliving their glory days.”

It’s great that a lot of the officials take the assault so well, but this university needs to create a system in which consequences for unsportsmanlike behavior carry a harsher punishment. By fining players who get ejected or putting holds on their account, the safety of campus recreation officials may be held in higher regard.

Intramural officials on this campus do the best they can and really enjoy their job. I asked each one of them if the money they make is worth the abuse and each said that they do it for the enjoyment more than the money, and that it is worth it.

Come on, Illinois students. When you get out there on the playing field, before you start cursing out one of your peers, think about how you look and how it would feel if you were in their shoes.

Kevin Spitz is a senior in Engineering. He can be reached at [email protected]