Refs stay cool, but fans' behavior is getting uglier


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Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2013, 9:00 pm
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By John Marx, jmarx@qconline.com
Don Umland swears he was not dropped on his head as a child.

Yet he loves officiating at sporting events, regularly subjecting himself to the outrageous slings and arrows of players, coaches and fans.

Fans especially.

Umland, like many of his peers locally, works high school football games in the fall, prep and college basketball games in the winter and softball and baseball games in spring and summer.He also works Division I college baseball games in the spring, and he's a regular-rotation sub for professional baseball's Midwest League.

As also happens to his peers, Umland's eyesight and his integrity are regularly questioned. A fan of the team losing the game he is officiating often asks if he is on the payroll of the team that is winning. It's always the ref's fault when someone's losing.

But he loves it. And if he can speak for officials everywhere: They love it as well.

He says it's OK the job of an official could be described with the line from "Dragnet" Det. Joe Friday: "It is a endless, glamour-less, thankless job.''

And at times, brutal.

"Someone has to do it,'' Umland said. "The guys I work with are honored to get the chance.''

It should be noted I have had my share of run-ins with officials, both as a player and as a coach.

That said, I think those kinds of run-ins are getting uglier. Recently, I have seen more venom than ever being spewed at officials, at games ranging from the college level all the way down to third- and fourth-grade basketball games. I even saw a fan berate a college student umpiring an indoor baseball tournament game at Iowa City last month.

It's alarming; it's ridiculous; and it's scary. From top to bottom. Some folks worry more about yelling at the referee than watching what's going on in the game.

"I love the game, whatever it is I'm working,'' Umland said, explaining why he officiates."I suspect that to be true with anyone who does it. Plus, I love sharing the game with my peers. The people I work with are my friends, and it allows me to be around them. It also allows me to be around the coaches and the kids playing, and to appreciate the effort they put in.''

As professional as officials try to be, they hear things. You might think they cannot see, but they can hear. They hear the loudmouth in the third row -- the guy who never played any athletic game in his life -- berating them on every snap, pitch or pick-and-roll.

"Most times you just keep your head forward, but if someone gets off a good one, I usually smile,'' Umland said. "Certainly it can get out of hand, but I can't worry about what the fans think, because then you lose sight of the game. My favorite is when a fan tells me I missed one, and I tell them, 'You're right.' I love the look on their face after that.''

Officials make about $75 for a high school football game, $70 for a prep basketball game and in the area of $250 for a Division I baseball game.

At this level, no one is getting rich from refereeing.

"It's about the game and the people, not the money,'' Umland said. "You never want to be noticed -- that means you are doing your job. But like everything in life, people are not going to be happy with all you do.''

Maybe so, but it's getting out of hand.








Columnist John Marx can be reached at (309) 757-8388 or jmarx@qconline.com.
















 




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