AFTER THE WHISTLE

Who's calling the shots?

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— Don't be surprised if you read this advertisement in the "Help Wanted" section of the newspaper someday:

Umpires and referees wanted. This part-time position pays $10-$14 a game and applicants must be available to work weekday evenings. Experience preferred, but we will train if necessary. Some applicants may be required to be the subject of verbal harassment, have their family history and eyesight called into question nightly and they must be willing to take an insult that would make most grown men cry while maintaining a positive attitude. Applicants must have a bachelor of arts degree in how to deal with young children. If you are interested, or just need to be committed, please call the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Department.

I'm sure that if this advertisement were true, the phone on Howelsen Parkway would no doubt already be ringing off the hook. But surely, by now, both our recreational soccer league and softball leagues have plenty of qualified applicants just beating down the door for a chance at one of these jobs. Not.

Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Christina Freeman assures me that there are not tons of people banging at the door. The softball leagues had a modest turnout for training clinics this season and the soccer league has had to go to a system where players in the league referee other teams' games when they are not playing. League coordinator Jay Bostrom, who knows the wrath of a player wronged firsthand, said he will use this system for the rest of the season for two reasons.

First, he is out of referees who want to come out and oversee the games; and second, in the two weeks since he started, the players are starting to calm down.

He is hoping that maybe they are starting to grasp the reality of their actions. In recent weeks he personally has issued six red cards and had to consider kicking a player out of the league for the rest of the season.

"We have seen a minimum of 50 percent turnover rate every year," Freeman said. "It's just hard to hang on to good people from year to year."

Freeman said part of the problem in the adult soccer league might be the pay which is just $10 per referee. Softball umpires are paid $14 per game. The rate of pay is decided by the fees each league pays.

But Freeman also stressed that verbal abuse has also been an issue in both leagues this year and in the past.

"People are taking their recreational sports just a little too far," Bostrom said. "It doesn't seem to matter what the sport is people here in Steamboat are just ultra-competitive. They seem to forget that they come out to play for fun."

On the field Bostrom has witnessed aggressive play, unnecessary penalties and players losing their tempers. This has resulted in some referees deciding that the pay wasn't worth the pain.

You mean it's hard to keep referees when players keep shouting at them and chasing them off the softball or soccer field for making a bad call?

Unfortunately, many players have been a little slow to make a connection between the way they act on the field and the lack of experienced umpires and referees in these leagues.

Why isn't that umpire you yelled at last night coming back for another season? Well, figure it out.

It's funny, but I'm sure my wife and a few of the people I have played with over the years are chuckling at me right now. Why?

Well, it's a little embarrassing, but at one time I was the guy yelling at umpires in the softball league and making a scene every time I didn't agree with a particular call.

Luckily, these days I have this little voice that speaks to me when I start to lose my temper on the field.

It reminds me that I am here playing this game for fun. It also stresses in a comforting but stern voice, that the outcome of this game will not impact my life one way or another it isn't like I'm getting paid millions of dollars to win.

I know what you are thinking this guy hears voices?

Well, for those of you who haven't figured it out, the voice belongs to my much more level-headed wife. I will not go into what happens that night at home if I choose not to listen to this voice on the field.

But I will tell you that no matter what point I made by yelling at the umpire, it wasn't worth it when I get home.

Let's face it. No call is worth loosing your cool on the field. It ruins a good time for everyone involved including the officials we pay to oversee the games, the other team and, in most cases, the players on your own team who didn't come out to hear someone yelling. If they wanted that, they would have stayed home and watched Jerry Springer it's less embarrassing.

This week, after talking to both Bostrom and softball coordinator Christian Talli, I could see their point.

However, I'm sure that this problem is not widespread. There are probably also great examples of players in adult leagues who go out every week and just have fun. Those are the people we all want to play with.

In fact, I think most people play recreational sports to have fun and I think most people make it through the season without ever yelling at an umpire.

But it's those few examples, those folks who don't listen to the little voice that reminds us that it's just a game, that are stopping leagues from getting and keeping good umpires and referees. In the end these incidents are not just ruining their good time, the actions are making the leagues less fun for everyone.

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