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WOLF: Don’t yell at the refs or you may get hurt yourself

COLUMN: Consequences for full-throated ‘advice’ for officials
(Facebook photo)

I woke up with a sore throat the other day.

“Great,” I thought. “I’m catching that cold that’s going around.”


I figured out what had happened as soon as I tried to speak.

Being a remarkable athlete, I knew I had injured myself at a basketball game.

Except it wasn’t in the way you might think. Rather, I got ‘dinged up’ from my position in the corner of the elementary school gym, sitting in my special, brought-from-home chair.

That’s right, I remained sore in the voicebox region for a few days because I found myself reflexively yelling during the course of play.

Not the good, encouraging yelling either.

It was a Grade 7 boys playoff semifinal.

Normally, I’d watch any game involving kids, even playoff contests with family members involved, with a quiet detachment.

“Yell encouragement, whisper constructive criticism” was always a personal mantra when I was coaching.

“Don’t yell at the officials,” was another.

Obviously, the first was easier for a reformed competitive freak than the second, but it wasn’t really too difficult.

In this particular game, there were two excellent, seasoned refs. Which was fantastic, but rare, at that level.

Mostly it was just coaches or other volunteers stepping in, so you knew all kinds of theoretical violations were going to go uncalled.

And again at that level, some of the players might not yet have a firm grasp on all the rules, so you have to let a lot of stuff go.

But this time it was great and kids learn very quickly. There were calls for moving picks, carrying the ball, backcourt violations, lane violations on free throws and more.

Many drew quizzical looks from the players, but I thought it was terrific. The refs still allowed some things to slide, to ensure there was at least some flow to the game, but it was definitely called closer to how it should be all the time.

Except… there was one player on the ‘other’ team who travelled (took too many steps without dribbling) every single time he had the ball.

With the time running down in a one-point game, he got the ball. He then travelled … and scored.

I felt the guttural yell begin deep down and there was no stopping it.

“He WALKED!!!!!!” I bellowed, surprising myself with my personal volume. I quickly recovered my composure and followed by muttering “every time” under my breath.

Fortunately, there was a lot of screaming and cheering after the basket, so my outburst was slightly muffled.

But it was still way too loud.

I immediately felt a scratch in my throat, having not used my voice like that in forever. I thought nothing of it until the penalty arrived the next morning via the annoying pain.

I have since tried to reason with myself, pointing out I wasn’t really screaming at the refs, just loudly noting a violation to myself, only some extra sound escaped.

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I understand the compulsion to yell at game officials, specially at the higher levels of sport.

But I learned a very valuable lesson as a teenager that’s stuck with me for decades.

When I was a kid, the televised baseball game of the week often seemed to feature managers like Billy Martin kicking dirt on umps or Earl Weaver turning various shades of red as he argued vociferously and profanely.

I thought that’s how it was done.

So when I was asked to help manage a Little League team, I figured I’d show my stuff.

First game, there was a play at the plate. I thought our guy was safe, the ump called him out.

I sprinted out of the dugout, full of piss and vinegar, and stated (I’m paraphrasing): “he was safe, how could you miss that?”

The wise old ump put his hand on my shoulder and said “walk with me.”

We went down the first base line, where no one could really hear us and he said: “son, you’re embarrassing yourself. These are just kids out here having fun. I’m doing the best I can. Let’s make sure we set an example for them.”

Chastened, I slunk back to the dugout. I never forgot that moment.

During many years coaching a variety of sports, I often had parents and players sign a code of conduct that specifically dealt with proper treatment of game officials.

Refereeing myself and covering the sports beat for many years as well, I saw all kinds of abuse of officials. It was foul.

Moms screaming vulgarities my buddies and I wouldn’t have used privately in the dressing room. One adult locked a teen ref in an official’s room. I saw a parent run out onto the field during a baseball game and attack an umpire. I’ve seen parents screaming at refs during a game with six-year-olds playing with mini nets. Insanity.

If you’re at a kid’s game, please don’t yell at the refs.

It’s just dumb.

A sore throat should be the most minimal of punishments.

PQB News/Vancouver Island Daily editor Philip Wolf welcomes your questions, comments or story ideas. He can be reached by phone at 250-905-0019 or by email at

Philip Wolf

About the Author: Philip Wolf

I’ve been involved with journalism on Vancouver Island for more than 30 years, beginning as a teenage holiday fill-in at the old Cowichan News Leader.
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