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Profanity & fights rampant in Arizona high school sports; officials consider stronger penalties

The problem is so out of control that the Arizona Interscholastic Association is considering tougher penalties and stronger enforcement.
Published: Mar. 30, 2022 at 9:30 PM MST|Updated: Mar. 31, 2022 at 10:23 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - From profanity to fighting, high school sporting officials are dealing with a record number of ejections in Arizona. The problem is so out of control that the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA), which oversees high school sports, is considering tougher penalties and stronger enforcement.

According to the AIA, in the academic school year before the pandemic hit, there were 1,058 ejections, including 215 coaches. With four months still to go in this academic year, there have already been 1,218 ejections, including 327 coaches. Jeff Barker has officiated games for more than two decades and says personal attacks are getting more frequent.

Officials weigh in

“Personally, as an official, I’ve been assaulted after a game. I’ve had fans follow me to my car after a game. I’ve had coaches wait for me after the game to say that I did a horrible job,” says Barker.

Brian Gessner is the AIA’s State Commissioner of Officials. According to Gessner, nationally, more than 50,000 game officials have quit over the last three years. He blames bad behavior, including from fans.

“Two weeks ago, I had 14 straight days of bench-clearing brawls. I had a fan come out of the stand and rip the jersey of an official. I had a fan come out and slap a soccer official. I had a coach go into a locker room and shove a basketball official,” says Gessner.

An increase of fights in Arizona high school sports has led to officials increasing penalties...
An increase of fights in Arizona high school sports has led to officials increasing penalties against parents, players, and coaches.(Arizona's Family)

What could happen next?

Increasing penalties for players and coaches is an option being discussed. Currently, if a person is ejected from a game, they sit out the rest of the game and a subsequent game. For a second ejection, the person sits out the game and two subsequent games. A third ejection, and the person is out for the season.

Increased penalties being discussed could include fines, bringing people before an executive board for stricter punishment, or increasing the number of games people sit out. Instead of focusing on the actions on the fields and courts, officials are increasingly having to handle security and unruly fans, a duty which should fall under the responsibilities of school administration which is frequently stretched thin.

Gessner is now sending a message and a warning that game officials can be more aggressive and start using their authority to shut down a game if fans are abusive or out of control. The bottom line is it comes down to the safety of officials, players, coaches, and fans, and the fights, intimidation, and profanity have no place in sportsmanship that should be part of the game.