School sports officials ramp up efforts to curb abuse

Posted 9/8/22

It had been building for some time. There may not have been hard data, but everyone associated with scholastic or youth sports could recognize that the abuse, or threat of abuse, of officials had …

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School sports officials ramp up efforts to curb abuse


It had been building for some time. There may not have been hard data, but everyone associated with scholastic or youth sports could recognize that the abuse, or threat of abuse, of officials had reached a level that demanded action. 

At a soccer game last spring, the environment became so bad (incursions by fans onto the playing pitch, threats to officials, assault) that the pitch was closed to spectators.

Despite this action, the sentiments of the officiating community were made crystal clear after this incident. They collectively stated, “If you don’t do something about this – we are not coming back.”

So related the Assistant Executive Director of the Texas Association of Sports Officials (TASO), Bill Theodore. 

“As if to put an exclamation mark on that incident, while at a working meeting to discuss forming our new policy, we received a call. A brawl had broken out at a JV match. It was time for action,” he said.

The TASO organization went to work. With 15,000 members officiating scholastic sports across the state, they were compelled to take action to protect their constituents. TASO provides officials for baseball, basketball, football, soccer, softball, volleyball and water polo in Texas.

TASO is the largest such organization in the country. It is also completely separate from the scholastic organization it supports – the University Interscholastic league (UIL). This arrangement is unique among the 50 states and has thrust TASO into the national spotlight. 

All schools which are served by TASO are operating this year in light of a new TASO directive, the Abuse of Officials Policy.

At the center of the policy is a tripwire of three incident reports which document abuse, or the threat of abuse, of officials. Should three reports be received about abusive action by people associated with a specific school, it will trigger the school to produce a plan of action which addresses how they will curb such instances in the future. Should the district not take sufficient action, TASO will refuse to send officials to work any home games at that school in any sport for the remainder of the school year. 

“We did not want to come out with this policy,” stated Theodore, “but we had to set the ground rules regarding abusive conduct toward officials.”

Theodore offered some background to better understand the policy.

“We have used incident reports in the past for officials to document any event which interrupts the normal flow of the game.” He related that reports have historically been submitted should lights go out, or a serious injury be incurred by an athlete, or an excessive weather delay, among other things. 

This year, incident reports will also be used to document instances of physical abuse toward officials or the threat of physical abuse. Keyword search programs will surface those reports at any time which are abuse-related.   

As an example of how many incident reports are fielded by TASO, Theodore stated that after Week One of football season, he had 330 incident reports in his football folder. Add the other six sports and the numbers quickly swell into the thousands. 

No doubt, the policy has some gravitas. It should. Serious incidents of assault are no longer shocking when, and if, they are covered by national media. The trend of violence toward officials is making incidents more commonplace. Shameful, yes, but far too common.    

Theodore took care to describe the procedure in more detail. He related that upon receiving an abuse-related incident report, the very first thing that is done is to send a copy of that report to the superintendent or superintendent-designated recipient at the school named in the report. This, he explained, removes any claim of ignorance of the event. 

Each report is reviewed within the six TASO divisions. Should three such reports be received about a specific school, the TASO President’s Council will determine if, based on the information at hand, the school has failed to create a culture which controls the conduct of coaches, players and spectators. 

The school will then be notified of the finding and required to submit, within seven days, a plan of action to address the situation. Theodore related that TASO will work with the schools to ensure that the changes proposed adequately address the problem.

Should a school simply decline to accept the findings, or ignore that directive to systematically address the conduct of their associated employees, athletes or fans, then TASO will cease officiating that school’s home games – in all sports, for the entire school year. 

Theodore reported that the policy has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from school administrators statewide.

“There have been a few that have been questioning, but the vast majority understand the importance of what we are trying to achieve.”

He continued, “No one goes to a sporting event to see an official, they go to watch a loved one or a favorite team compete and excel. In scholastic sports, there is accountability. The athletes are accountable to the coaches and to each other; the coaches are accountable to the athletes and the administrators; the officials are accountable to TASO; but there is no accountability for bad conduct toward officials. We are trying to introduce that.”       

Key to the success of the policy is the concept of collaboration.

“We must have collaboration between the officials and the schools and the communities,” Theodore remarked.  The spirit of competition and the support of athletic teams by fans is good, a part of the game, Theodore explained…“but we cannot have the pot boil over…we must keep the emotion of the game at a simmer.” 

All fans should be aware that the latest Texas legislature increased the legal classification of assault against sports participants.  

Also of note is that the policy is not just varsity-oriented. Junior/middle school is also specifically called out in the policy.

What has caused the increase in assaults against officials is a subject for study. However, the growth of unregulated leagues (summer, select and traveling leagues) may play a roll in the trend. Theodore explained that there is absolutely no accountability governing fans at those events, and undisciplined interactions by fans with officials has crept into scholastic sports. 

It has had a telling effect on the number of officials available. Theodore advised that last week, eight high school football games were rescheduled to a different day due to a shortage of officials. In the same week, 23 TASO chapters had to borrow officials from neighboring chapters in order to execute the schedule.

He also shared that of the 15,000 members in the state, the population of those older than 50 years of age is greater than those under 30.

The assistant director hopes that addressing and curbing the abuse of officials will bring more young officials to the field. In another notable action, the UIL Legislative Council recently approved the ten-year pay plan put forth by TASO.

“We pay higher stipends than any other state, and now officials have the ability to project income,” Theodore added.          

With 38 years of experience in officiating, Theodore highlighted the characteristics of service as an official: camaraderie, activity, love of sport, giving back and being part of a brotherhood. 

With respect to the new policy, Theodore commented, “We hope it is a procedure that is never needed to be used.”