Spokane youth sports faces referee shortage, father-son duo step up to the plate

There is a shortage in Spokane that could impact youth sports matches – it is getting hard to find referees.

Conventional wisdom might suggest it is because of angry parents, and that a growing number officials are calling it quits due to the verbal punishment they face every game. It is a problem the Inland Empire Referee Association says is happening nationwide.

It is almost instinctive – you see a bad call on a field, and you blame the ref. What people may not realize is that the kids are not the only inexperienced ones out on the field.

“They’re hot during the game. After the game is over, they disagree on the call or several calls,” says referee Rob Davis, “sometimes you have to warn them, ‘Hey, calm down.'”

Davis has been a referee for about 15 years, but it was his 12-year-old son’s passion that has kept him officiating to this day. The father-son duo spend their Saturdays in the fall officiating youth sports. Their relationship is strengthened each game.

“It gives us a way to connect,” says Davis, “it’s more than just dad and son, and it’s very impressive to watch him grow and how mature he’s becoming.”

Spokane Youth Sports Association (SYSA) reports that some varsity games have gone without an official due to the referee shortage. Clearly, no one enjoys getting yelled at during an entire game, but Rob’s son Justin says he does not even think twice about.

“[There are] some coaches not liking my calls and yelling at me consistently, so what I just tell them is that I didn’t have it on that play,” says Justin Davis, “because if I say ‘I didn’t see,’ then they’ll say, ‘You haven’t been seeing anything, you need glasses!'”

Typically, youth games, like the ones operated by SYSA, are officiated by someone who is just starting to learn the ropes. That is the case for Justin, but he says nothing is more rewarding than the health benefit of being a ref.

“I’ve been trying to get more and more fit, I’ve tried to take charge of my life, so I’m starting to eat healthier and get more fit,” Justin says, “And I think it’s rewarding for me – I’ve been spending less time on the couch; and with baseball, I’ve been so much faster than I was starting the season.”

Inland Empire is asking parents not to make comments on every call – because even if each parent only makes one comment per match, that referee would still be heckled every single minute.

At the end of the day – the kids are the ones paying the price.