By KYLE BRENNAN
DERBY — “You know you can hear me!”
Yes, he could hear you. The official heard your incessant screaming. We all heard it. After all, it was impossible to ignore — irate, embarrassing, shameful bluster from a parent at a high school football game.
On one hand, it was nothing new. I’ve been to thousands of games over the years, and no matter the setting, there’s one in every crowd — and usually more, as was the case at DeFilippo Field on Dec. 4 for Woodland’s Class S semifinal football game against Ansonia.
For some reason, though, you made a strong enough impression for me to open up my phone’s notes app and start writing this column while I stood on the sidelines.
Maybe it was the fact that you chased him down the sideline, relocating to open spots along the fence like a dog chasing a mailman every time the Hawks gained a few more yards.
Maybe it was because the rest of the crowd seemed to quiet down as Woodland drove for an important fourth-quarter touchdown, probably distracted by the fact that you were still acting so petulantly.
But I think it was the fact that you exercised such an incredible lack of self-awareness that you managed, for a few minutes, to steal the spotlight at a high school football playoff semifinal.
Did the officials miss a pass interference call or two? Sure, I thought they cost Woodland a touchdown on its first drive of the game by not throwing a flag on an Ansonia interception. Regardless, was your harassment going to help the situation? Of course not, but it didn’t stop you from your crusade.
Enough about you for now. I presume and hope you’re not a bad human being but rather an exuberantly passionate dad who didn’t want that game to be his son’s last. People get caught up in moments, and I won’t judge a man’s entire character based on the 10-minute slice of it I saw.
The problem is that what we all heard that Sunday in Derby wasn’t an isolated incident. No matter where we go to watch high school or youth sports, we’ve all seen and heard these guys (and ladies, if we’re calling a spade a spade).
When I was a full-time sportswriter, I had the luxury of finding the humor in watching fans lose their marbles in the bleachers. It broke up the monotony of the job. It was funny to listen to their know-it-all rage, smile and think, you sure showed him!
But now, as a high school teacher and coach who works the crowd-control job at many of my school’s games, there’s no humor left in listening to insults from blowhards.
You know why? Because while these people ride their adrenaline rush of anger and think it’ll make a difference in the game, I see the real effects of their tirades.
The shortage of high school officials in Connecticut is one of the direst in America. According to National Federation of State High School Associations data cited by Hearst Connecticut Media, there were 15% fewer officials in Connecticut last school year than the year before that.
The stats ring true in reality. For high school athletics administrators, scheduling officials can be as difficult as lucking upon a spare bus for an away game. Sub-varsity games are canceled all the time because there are no officials available, and varsity games don’t escape the chopping block, either.
Who could blame the officials who quit or those hesitant to become referees? A $94 payday (before taxes) to be berated by parents and coaches? Nah, I’m good.
Speaking of coaches, I’m one of the people at my school who interviews coaching candidates when we have a vacancy. If we get a couple of applicants for each job these days, that’s a victory in itself. Why so few? I think you get it by now.
There’s one more effect most people don’t want to confront. Ask most student-athletes how they feel when they know their parents are screaming like idiots, and if they really trust you, they’ll tell you something like this: “I’m embarrassed.”
There will be two reactions to this column. One: Who the hell does this writer think he is? The other: I’m glad somebody said it.
The overwhelming majority of parents I’ve met in my 14-year sportswriting career and my five-year education career are positive supporters of high school athletics. You’re needed more than ever. The good must not just outweigh the bad, but also make clear what won’t be tolerated.
I have low hopes that this message will change the behavior of my target audience, but if this reaches the right eyes, I have only one way to close.
You know you can hear me.
Reach Kyle Brennan at email@example.com.