In high school and elementary school athletics, the football field, the basketball court, the ice rink, the ball field — wherever an athletic event is being held — that designated area is a classroom.

There is the football field classroom, the basketball court classroom, the soccer field classroom, the baseball or softball field classroom, etc. You get the idea.

The subject being taught common to all is “Sportsmanship,” and it ranks right up there with reading, writing and arithmetic.

In the Catholic League, and I presume this is the routine elsewhere in the state, the public announcer provides in his welcoming remarks a reminder of the context in which the contest should be played and viewed, that is, within an educational environment.

After the national anthem, the Catholic League sanctifies the moment with an invitation to all to recite the “Our Father.”

Sad to say, from that solemn moment on, chaos erupts in the classroom.

The home team cheerleaders have barely said “Amen,” then begin derisively greeting opposing guest-players as they are introduced with “Who cares!”

Once the whistle blows, spectators, coaches and even players, too, join the chorus, aiming their barbs at the officials, their opponents, even their own team. 

Not everyone is hooting and hollering, but a very vocal minority makes enough noise to make administrators across the state shake their heads. In particular, they are dismayed at the behavior of parents.

Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, and Mark Uyl, executive director of the Michigan High School Athletic Association, issued an op-ed piece recently titled, “Dear Mom and Dad: Cool it.”

“When you attend an athletic event that involves your son or daughter, cheer to your heart’s content,” they wrote, “but when it comes to verbally criticizing game officials or coaches, cool it ... Yelling, screaming and berating the officials humiliates your child, annoys those sitting around you, embarrasses your child’s school and is the primary reason Michigan has an alarming shortage of high school officials.”

They cite a national survey showing that “more than 75 percent of all high school officials say ‘adult behavior’ is the primary reason they quit. And 80 percent of all young officials hang up their stripes after just two years ... They don’t need (the) abuse.”

The effect is creating a shortage of registered high school officials “severe enough in some areas that athletic events are being postponed or canceled.”

“The situation is bad,” says Vic Michaels, director of the CHSL and secretary-treasurer of the MHSAA Representative Council. “Referees are reluctant to throw anyone out.”

“It’s getting worse. Parents don’t know what they’re talking about,” says a longtime girls basketball coach in the CHSL. “They look only at their kid. Officials are human. They’re calling the game the way they see it.”

She goes on: “It’s a terrible lesson parents are teaching their kids. Life isn’t fair. No time in the history of sports has an official’s decision been changed because of yelling and screaming.”

Another official with a nearly 30-years resume agrees: “It’s getting worse even in the CYO. It’s not just the fans. How the coach reacts trickles down to the players. Even the players have attitudes. I called a foul on a kid who raked his arm across another player. He gave me that hands out, 'you-don’t-know-what-you’re-doing' look. They say the prayer before the game. It’s out the window in two minutes.”

He continues: “I don’t know the answer. Maybe a no-tolerance policy? How realistic would that be? I guess it all starts at home.”

You can be a part of the solution to the shortage of high school officials by signing up to become an MHSAA-registered official on the “Officials” page at

As for the rest of us, until we learn to behave better, go stand in the corner.

Contact Don Horkey at