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Guest column: Think before you criticize the referee
by Tom Burger · Op-Ed · November 30, 2011


As a registered official, referee, and umpire of youth, middle school, high school, and college athletics I am inspired to write this column.
When attending athletic events as a fan or as a game official, I notice the treatment that is given to officials. Every call that an official makes is going to make one team happy and the other team upset. This is just human nature.

Looking at the whole picture, as a fan I observe the call and normally do not show any emotion, but also give my opinion of the call either to myself or to someone close by.

As a registered official, the Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union both recommend that registered officials are not critical of other officials when they are a fan.

In the rules, it states that officials/umpires/referees are required to take a written test (either open book or closed book) on a yearly basis, attend a rules clinic/meeting either online or in person, and pay dues in order to officiate.

Having said that, it does intrigue me when I hear fans yelling about a call without knowing the rules as stated in the appropriate rule book. Professional, collegiate, high school, ASA, club volleyball, USSSA Baseball, etc. — all might have a different set of rules and some could possibly have the same.

For example, I know that “pass interference” in football is not the same interpretation in high school as it is in professional and college football. This is just one of many that might be different. As a fan, do you know that? As an official, you have to know that if you officiate different levels.

The best “no-call” that I like is in basketball when I hear someone yell “three seconds in the lane.” We really need to educate fans on this rule because 99% of the time the officials are correct on not calling this.

Just like myself, most officials are officiating for the love of the game. They can’t play the game anymore, can’t or don’t want to coach, need extra income, or maybe officiate for the exercise. But remember this: they are someone’s father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter — you get the picture.

My family came to watch me umpire a Big 10 Softball game this past spring. My kids were excited to watch the game and see their dad on the field. They sat with the visiting team’s fans. I made a call late in the game and of course, the very close call went against that team and that team’s fans really let me have it. Here was my family sitting right in the middle of them listening to this.

Did I get the call right? According to me, yes, to the home team, yes, to the visitors, no! But, no one is biased, right?

In closing, I urge you to take all of this information into the next game you attend as a player, spectator, coach or fan. Respect the game officials, they put a lot of time in by studying rules, watching film, getting observed, and spending time away from their own family.

I’ve been asked many times, “Why do you do officiate”? My response, “If no one does, would the kids be able to play?” My main goal as an official is to leave the court or field without anyone even knowing that I was there and not caring who wins or loses.

If you would like to know how to get started and become an official, please feel free to contact me.



Tom Burger is a registered official with the IHSAA and IGHSAU in volleyball, basketball, and softball. He is also a Division I, II, and III college softball umpire in the Big 10, Missouri Valley, The Summit, Midwest Conference, Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and Iowa Community College Athletic Conference.

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