Sports officials are a common sight at DGS. Not only are 15 out of the 20 sports offered at DGS overseen by sporting officials, but many students and faculty spend time officiating sporting events as well.
According to the National Association of Sport Officials (NASO), these officials, including referees and umpires, “ensure games are played fairly, by the rules, within the spirit of the rules and in a safe manner.”
Physical Education teacher Colleen Reagan has been officiating volleyball matches for the past nine years. She believes that although officials have an important role in the game, they should not stand out.
“It shouldn’t be about me,” Reagan said. “People shouldn’t…even notice [me]. I’m there just to make sure that the teams are following the rules.”
This is consistent in what the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) expects of its officials. Throughout the school year, IHSA officials, like Reagan, are rated by coaches of the teams they officiate for on their performance. Based upon their rating, they are given opportunities to officiate events including sectionals, regionals and state tournaments.
Similar to this, officials for professional sports like the National Football League (NFL) are graded weekly. If there are any issues with the calls they make or do not make, they are downgraded. A multitude of mistakes can require them to pay fines, or cost them the opportunity to officiate in the playoffs or the Superbowl.
Reagan thinks that this is not only a fair process, but an important motivation for referees.
“I don’t have a problem with being graded and being rated because it makes you strive to be better,” Reagan said.
Although you must be at least 17 years old to become an IHSA official, there are other options available to younger students. Downers Grove Youth Baseball allows anyone 12 and older to umpire after attending training sessions. Similarly, the Illinois Soccer Referee Committee allows anyone ages 12 and older to become a referee after attending a clinic and passing a test each year.
Sophomore Catherine Lynch started refereeing for soccer when she was 13. Although she believes it was a good learning experience, Lynch ended her time officiating last year because she wasn’t enjoying it anymore.
“It was a lot of pressure to be a referee [and] not…make the coaches [and/or] parents angry,” Lynch said. “It’s difficult…There are a lot of rules you have to know [and it’s hard to] not make any mistakes.”
In sporting events, officials have to make important calls, either for or against each team. In most sports, an official cannot retract or change their call, even if they realize that they have made a mistake. This often leads to criticism from the team, the coaches and the fans.
As a referee, Lynch has experienced anger directed toward her because of calls she has made.
“It’s very stressful because…if you make a wrong call it can cause [a team] to lose, and parents [might] get angry at you…or players might…act disrespectful toward you,” Lynch said.
Lynch has experienced a situation while working as an assistant referee, in which the other referee made a controversial call. Even though she was not the one to make the call, angry parents on the sidelines began to yell at Lynch.
While Lynch has had a problem with parents, it is also common for athletes to become angry at officials. Senior Taulant Beshiri, a member of the Boys’ Varsity soccer team, understands the frustration that may cause athletes to act negatively in this way.
“When you’re an athlete and you’re on the field and [the official has made] a big mistake…you kind of just want to tear [the official] apart,” Beshiri said.
Nevertheless, Beshiri feels that these emotions are unreasonable and should not be acted upon.
“[Off] the field, you have to thank [the officials] because they do their job, and it’s a tough job,” Beshiri said.
Reagan has also experienced negative reactions because of her calls, but she believes that criticism is something that officials should expect with their job.
“I just work hard to be fair and impartial, and if there’s a bad reaction to that, or if someone sees something differently than I do, then that’s just…part of the gig,” Reagan said.
Varsity Girls’ Volleyball coach and Special Services teacher Trisha Kurth considers the referees for volleyball in Dupage County to be of high quality. She believes that the quality of a referee can determine whether or not athletes have a positive or negative experience in their sport.
“I never want the kids to think they lost the match because of bad refereeing,” Kurth said.
Concurrently, Kurth believes that athletes will have a more positive experience when they learn to accept the officials’ calls, whether the calls are in their favor or not.
“I always tell the kids that what the referees call is the final judgment,” Kurth said. “The referee is going to call what they see, but [athletes] tend to not realize that a referee is never going to change their call.”
The Varsity Boys’ Soccer coaches also work hard to educate their players about reacting to referees. Beshiri believes that his coaches do an effective job of teaching their athletes to be respectful.
“Our coaches for soccer do a very good job of…making bad calls [in practice], to see us adapt to it,” Beshiri said. “In games we usually don’t…complain a lot to the referees.”
Similar to many DGS coaches, Lynch urges athletes to be respectful to officials.
“There has to be a line where you don’t question the [official],” Lynch said. “You just have to continue playing, no matter what.”