Column: Amid increasing abuse, officials flee youth sports

Apr 21, 2022, 11:05 PM | Updated: Apr 24, 2022, 11:49 am

Kristi Moore, left, stands on the field before a baseball game between the Miami Marlins and the Atlanta Braves on Friday, April 22, 2022, in Atlanta. Moore was punched in the face less than two weeks ago by a parent who did not agree with her call on a play at second base at a girls' softball game in Mississippi. Major League Baseball umpires Lance Barksdale and Ted Barrett were outraged when they heard of the assault of Moore. They wanted to show their support, so they invited her to Friday's game, which they are calling. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

ATLANTA (AP) — When one looks at the ugly bruise encircling Kristi Moore’s left eye, it’s not surprising so many refs and umps are hanging up their stripes.

Why put up with incessant taunts and threats from out-of-control parents?

Why fret over potential violence — even the chance of losing your life — because someone thinks you blew a call at a 12-year-olds’ softball game?

America is facing a crisis in prep and youth sports, where fewer and fewer people are willing to take on the thankless job of officiating games.

“The veterans are quitting by the droves. They’re sick of it,” said Moore, who overseas fast-pitch softball umpires for the state of Mississippi as well as the city of Laurel. “When we work to recruit new people, get ’em trained, get ’em out there on the field, they’re three or four games in when someone gives them a good cussing out or an invitation to get their tail beat. They’re like, ‘You know what? I’ll go cut grass on the weekend.'”

Moore can certainly understand that sentiment.

A couple of weeks ago, she was umpiring a girls’ softball game. She rarely works on the field anymore, but stepped in to the $40-a-game gig because another umpire was ill.

On a play at second base, Moore called the runner safe. A parent watching the game thought the runner was out. She began screaming profanities, according to Moore, “accused me of cheating these kids.”

Moore ordered the woman to leave, which she only agreed to after the ump threatened to forfeit the game — but not before vowing to settle things later.

Moore didn’t think any more of it, having endured similar threats during her 10 years as a youth umpire. But as soon as the game ended, the enraged mother was waiting.

“I was maybe three steps off the field and she was there,” Moore recalled. “And that’s when she punched me.”

The woman was arrested and charged with simple assault.

In addition to the black eye, Moore said her injuries include nerve damage and a bruise inside her ear. All of that will heal with time.

The mental wounds will be more of a challenge. Moore has not been back on the field since the attack. She’s not sure if she ever will.

“In the back of my mind I’m like, ‘What if she had a knife in her bag and stabbed me? What if she went to her car and got a gun, then came back and shot me?” Moore said. “It’s just scary.”

Barry Mano was appalled at what happened to Moore, but not surprised.

As president of the National Association of Sports Officials, a group that advocates for referees and umpires in a wide range of sports at all levels, Moore hears similar stories pretty much every week.

That abuse is a big reason so many states are having trouble finding enough qualified officials to call the games that children play.

“And without us,” Mano pointed out, “it’s just recess.”

There are almost daily reports around the country about how dire the situation has become:

— At Fishers High School in suburban Indianapolis, the junior varsity baseball team already called off a pair of games. “This is second time this spring we have canceled high school level game on sunny, dry day because we did not have umpires available!” the school tweeted.

— A couple of years ago, just before the pandemic, the state of Michigan had roughly 13,000 registered high school officials, Mano said. That number is 8,900 today.

— Tennessee’s high school association has requested all members play at least one football game on Thursday night next season to help alleviate a shortage of referees. That way, a single crew can call games on back-to-back nights.

“All we can do is ask teams if they can play on Thursday night,” said Bill Marbet, a longtime high school ref who is now an assigning officer for the Central Tennessee Football Officials Association. “If so, we can cover you. If not, sorry, we may not have enough officials.”

The Michigan decrease mirrors a nationwide trend, according to Mano, who puts the reduction of registered officials at somewhere between 25-30% since the start of the pandemic.

COVID-19 accelerated the problem, without question. It was not the root cause, however.

Many officials quit before the pandemic because of the abuse they were enduring from overzealous parents and fans. Then the games stopped, forcing others to consider their options. When play resumed, a significant number of those officials did not come back.

Major League Baseball umpires Lance Barksdale and Ted Barrett were outraged when they heard of the assault of Moore. They wanted to show their support, so through UMPS CARE Charities they invited her to the game they’re calling Friday night in Atlanta between the World Series champion Braves and the Miami Marlins.

Barksdale, a Mississippi native, said the assault on Moore is just another example of why officials in all sports are increasingly in short supply.

“I’m definitely concerned about it,” he said. “Until people are held accountable and we stop allowing them to act any way want to, we’re going to continue to have shortages. People are getting tired of it.”

Barrett theorized that the rise of travel teams in baseball — not to mention AAU teams in basketball and specialized camps for young football players — has caused parents to feel much more invested in their kids’ athletic careers, both financially and emotionally.

“Parents have this sense of entitlement,” Barrett said. “They’re paying so much money, they think they should have better umpires.”

Mano’s organization is pushing for laws that would make the assault of an official a felony. Already, 23 states have passed those statutes, but Mississippi isn’t one of them.

Even more importantly, there needs to be a change in attitude. Coaches should make it clear they won’t tolerate such behavior from parents, or their kids are off the team. And in the stands, fellow parents can’t sit by idly when one of their own is hurling insults at the officials.

“We can always take the bad actors into court and hammer the crap out of them,” Mano said. “But more than that is the culture here. Parents and fans and administrators and league directors have to understand that we’re not going to permit this type of behavior.

“Even if a call is egregiously wrong, that’s exactly the point. That shows the world who we are. We can’t have a world that turns on the rightness and wrongness of calls.”

While Moore hasn’t decided if she’ll ever call another game, she has been encouraged by the support she’s received from referees and umpires all over the world.

If anything, maybe this will be a turning point in the war on officials — a war that will eventually make losers of us all.

“I didn’t ask to be the poster child for officials’ abuse, but here I am,” Moore said. “My prayer is that moving forward, something good will come from this and we begin to change across all sports in how we treat our officials.”


Paul Newberry is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at) or at


More AP sports: and

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Ex-Packer Guion gets 1 year for domestic violence assault

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Former Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion was sentenced to one year in jail after pleading no contest in a domestic violence assault at his home last fall. Brown County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Walsh also ordered Guion on Tuesday to serve three years’ probation and complete a domestic […]
1 month ago
Joe Jarzynka...
Associated Press

Durant eager for Suns debut vs. Hornets after knee injury

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Durant has been through quite a bit during his 15-year NBA career — but joining a new team midway through the season is a new one for the 13-time All-Star. The 34-year-old Durant doesn’t seem all that worried. Durant makes his highly anticipated Phoenix Suns debut on Wednesday night against […]
1 month ago
FILE - Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores stands on the sideline during the second half of an N...
Associated Press

Judge: NFL coach can press discrimination claims in court

NEW YORK (AP) — NFL Coach Brian Flores can pursue some of his discrimination claims against the league and its teams in court rather than through arbitration, a judge ruled Wednesday. The written decision by Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan was issued months after lawyers for the league tried to get the lawsuit moved to […]
1 month ago
Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Alex Stalock cools off in the first period during an NHL hockey game ...
Associated Press

Kane trade reinforces hard reality of Blackhawks rebuild

CHICAGO (AP) — After days of speculation, the harsh reality of the Chicago Blackhawks’ situation was reinforced by one move in a flurry of transactions ahead of the NHL trade deadline. Showtime is over, at least in Chicago, and a seemingly bright future is, well, way off in the distance. The reverberations of Chicago’s decision […]
1 month ago
FILE -  Yves Jean-Bart, president of the Haitian Football Federation, wearing a protective face mas...
Associated Press

Disgraced ex-Haitian soccer president announces he’s back

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s former soccer federation president whose lifetime ban from sport over sexual abuse allegations was overturned last month announced Wednesday that he is reclaiming his position. Yves Jean-Bart’s defiant announcement could lead to a standoff with FIFA, which already has appointed an emergency management committee to lead the Haitian Football Association […]
1 month ago
FILE - Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers walks off the field after an NFL football game against the ...
Associated Press

Rodgers says decision on future will come ‘soon enough’

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers says he will make a decision on his future “soon enough” as the four-time MVP quarterback ponders whether to play next season and if his future remains with the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers, 39, discussed his future while speaking on an episode of the “Aubrey Marcus Podcast” that […]
1 month ago
Column: Amid increasing abuse, officials flee youth sports