John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
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It seems so obvious that every parent on the sideline, every athlete on the field and anyone who ever has played organized sports would recognize the importance of referees. Sadly, many don’t.
Maybe we should blame it on our society, one in which our expectations that every game — even those played among children — should rise to the level of professional sports. In that context, it's hard to fault adults for not wanting to volunteer to be the most unpopular person on the field or court.
Shame on us.
“It’s very important,” David Cline said about being a referee. “If we’re not out there doing it, then there is no game.”
Cline understands the importance of the referee to the game of soccer, and he has seen the good and the bad throughout the past 25 years.
Two of his three children (the other was a youth referee) played the game when they were growing up, which is one of the reasons he started refereeing. Although they grew up and moved on, something still draws Cline to the field for roughly 30 games each season.
He is part of a small but dedicated group of adult soccer referees who work youth games in Steamboat Springs. That group, combined with a contingent of youth referees, covers most of the games in the Steamboat Springs community during the summer and fall.
But the group is shrinking, and without new adult volunteers, Cline is afraid it’s going to get more difficult to find good referees in the future.
Many parents are quick to complain while standing on the sideline, but it seems that fewer are willing to step onto the field to make the calls themselves.
“I worry that as our group gets older, there will not be enough referees to cover all the games,” Cline said. “If that happens, the club might have to go to other places, and that could get costly for the club.”
In March, the Steamboat Soccer Club will host a series of certification clinics hoping to increase the number of referees available for local games. The cost for the clinic is $58, but technical director Hobey Early said referees will recover most of that cost after working just a few games.
The problem, however, is finding people willing to stick out their necks and don a ref's uniform.
“The trouble it that it is a pretty lackluster job,” he said. “If you are doing it right, nobody knows that you are there, but do something wrong and they all know who you are, and they will normally let you know how they feel about it.”
Cline said that getting yelled at by parents, coaches or players isn’t an every-game occurrence. It happens, but those games usually are the exception. He said the soccer parents in Steamboat are pretty good and also pretty forgiving.
In most cases, Cline said, he simply ignores the complaint. Sure, he misses a call every now and then, but that’s because he is human.
“The joke is that the day you ref a perfect game, that game will be your last,” Cline said. “You know that if you make a call, 50 percent of the people are going to be happy, the other 50 percent are going to be unhappy.”
For him, refereeing has been a rewarding experience, and he hopes there will be more people in the community willing to step up and take a chance when Steamboat hosts a pair of soccer clinics March 30 and 31. For more information, contact Hobey Early at firstname.lastname@example.org or register for the clinics at www.coreferees.org.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com