ENFORCING THE RULES

 by

 Tom E. Fakehany

When longtime official Joanne Venditto and her partner work a volleyball game, they prepare for adversity. "It's like going into a skirmish," Venditto said. "I know he's watching out for me and I'm watching out for him." In 25 years as an official, Venditto says she has seen officials threatened by fans, and berated by coaches, some of who have followed them after the game. Most officials have been banned from officiating at certain schools because someone, usually a coach, did not like the calls they made. Most officials look around worrying about exits and safety at a volatile game. Venditto says the lack of respect afforded some officials carries over to the game. She compares it to a chain reaction: A coach gets angry, players get angry and then fans get angry. At that point, enforcing the rules and keeping the peace become equally important.

It's hard to keep focused on the game when you are baby-sitting instead of officiating, Venditto said. "A lot of kids are not taught to respect the official. When I was a player, we would be benched or suspended if we ever talked back to an official. Now it's the order of the day. If a coach gets out of control, the players have a tendency to emulate him and get excited about it. That's the thing that worries us the most. In a hostile atmosphere, athletes are more likely to express themselves in negative ways. "It has gotten much worse, the taunting," she said. "In all the rules that we deal with on the high school and college levels, in all sports, more emphasis has been put on curbing taunting. It seems to be a national trend."

Many athletes are dumbfounded when they are penalized because they are unaware that high school rules differ from what is enforced on the pro level. Players are not the only ones confused. Coaches become befuddled when the officiating varies from one game to the next. A point winning celebration will draw a card if an official considers it unsportmanlike conduct. Some coaches, feel officials allow players to get away with too much. Every sport has rules to control the game. Sometimes officials do not tag a kid right away because they do not want to have an effect on the game. They let it go by, and before you know it, it becomes a nasty situation. Somewhere along the line, they are going to have to really start sitting on these kids.

Some coaches have officials come and explain to their players rules changes at the start of each season. They go through what is taunting, what is unacceptable as far as uniforms, etc. Yet when officials come down hard on an athlete by issuing a yellow or red card, often it's the coach who protests the loudest. The official is in a lose-lose situation. If they do not control a situation, they are criticized for not controlling the game. If they do call it, they are criticized for not letting the kids play.

This is no reason to resist making a tough call. Cooperation is needed from all parties involved--officials, coaches, athletes and administrators--in order to avoid problems and maintain the integrity of the game. The game is bigger than all of us and it's going to be around long after we are gone. Officials and Coaches as caretakers of the sport, are responsible to try to maintain it for the next generation. This responsibility should not be taken lightly.