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Zopf: Officials should stay out of the game's way
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David Stern apparently isn’t too fond of criticism directed toward his officials.

The NBA commish proved that Friday when he said that “coaches do whatever it takes to work them publicly,” and that doing so “erodes fan confidence.”

“So, our coaches should be quiet because this is a good business that makes them good livings and supports a lot of families,” Stern added, “and if they don’t like it, they should go get a job someplace else.”

If that’s how Stern feels about the tirades directed at NBA officials, just imagine how angry he’d be if he were to witness the negative remarks regarding high school officiating.

At nearly every high school sporting event, the officials are under attack by the fans. Their manhood is questioned. Their eyesight is questioned. Their knowledge of the game is questioned.

And for good reason.

Normally I wouldn’t take a negative angle toward officiating, as I believe that it is one of the hardest and most underapreciated job in all of sports, but the more games I attend at the high school level, the more I believe that there is a problem.

Case in point: last Wednesday’s soccer regular season finale between Gainesville and West Hall.

The Red Elephants entered that contest having already locked up the No. 1 seed from Area 7-AAA and were playing for two purposes: to keep their undefeated season alive and to prevent West Hall from reaching the postseason.

The Spartans, on the other hand, needed a win to get in, and as the game went along, the physicality of the game proved as much.

But then the official had to step in and make his presence known.

In what was an exciting back-and-forth contest between two talented teams, this official decided it would be a good idea to start handing out yellow and red cards like they were going out of style.

Look at him the wrong way? Yellow card. Make a hard, yet legal, tackle? Red card.

The fans apparently let him have it, and things got so bad for this official that at one point in the second half he stopped the game, sent both teams to the sidelines and made the announcer reread the Georgia High School Association sportsmanship statement that each team reads prior to the start of every athletic contest.

This would have been a perfectly fine resolution to the physicality/verbal abuse if those things weren’t occuring because the referee was so inept. And instead of admitting his ineptitude, this official decided to use his authority to show up the players, fans and sport.

He’s not alone.

Officials in every sport seem to portray this sense of entitlement, and when things start going against them, they use their power to change the outcome of the game and overshadow the participants on the playing surface.

Acts like this are uncalled for and shouldn’t be allowed at any level, specifically the high school one.

Sure, these officials are getting paid peanuts to perform a task that most of us aren’t willing and/or capable of doing, but regardless of how much money they’re making, they should take their job seriously and stay out of the way.

The mark of a good official is one who no one notices their presence during the game; one who is consistent in everything he or she calls and does everything to promote a level playing field.

There aren’t too many of those good officials out there at the high school level, and whether it’s through training, evaluations or good old-fashioned word of mouth, something needs to be done to combat the epidemic.

Jonathan Zopf is a sports writer for The Times. Contact him at jzopf@gainesvilletimes.com.
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