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Youth sports referees are fed up with abuse from parents, coaches

Amid a tight labor market, jobs are going unfilled in just about every sector of the economy. In Arizona and across the country, that includes youth sports referees.

In a survey of over 17,000 referees by the National Association of Sports Officials, nearly 85% say they are treated unfairly by parents, and 70% cited abuse from coaches.

Todd Sergi is with the Arizona State Referee Administration. 

“It has a significant impact," Sergi said. "The way parents speak to referees, the foul and abusive language, the sexist, racist remarks that they make to these youth. And, granted, about 1,000 referees in the state are aged 19 or younger.”

Sixty percent of those who leave officiating say they do so because of verbal abuse. Arin Finger is the league owner of i9 Sports Phoenix.

“If I’m a teenager, and I have a grown adult barking down my throat, I would never wanna be in that position again and I don’t blame them,” Finger said. He worries that some sites will have to shut down for the upcoming fall season due to inadequate staffing.

“If we’re struggling to find people, then we’re gonna have to make some hard decisions, unfortunately, that aren’t gonna be too favorable with the parents," he said. "But at the end of the day, unless they want to step up and be part of the staff or know somebody and can fill that gap, we have no choice.”

Finger urges parents to be positive role models for their children by showing respect on the sidelines.

Nick Sanchez is a senior producer for KJZZ's The Show. He joined the station as an intern during the spring of 2022, where he developed a passion for audio storytelling in the Valley.