Safety at sporting events | News

North Alabama, one of the busiest times, begins high season here later this week.

However, coaches and umpires need parental help to ensure games stay safe for everyone involved here in North Alabama.

The safety of child coaches and officials is on everyone’s mind after Saturday’s tragic incident in Texas that killed a youth soccer coach during a soccer game.

Here in North Alabama, officials tell me that parental behavior at sporting events has gotten worse and is taking a huge toll on the umpires.

“There’s definitely a lot more awareness of parents these days,” said Huntsville referee Trey Bankhead.

Bankhead has been in office for 10 years.

He says more and more parents are feeling the need to express their dissatisfaction with officials, which sometimes means dealing with referees.

“I had a parent who told me to meet him in the parking lot. I mean, I was a 16-year-old kid and he was a grown man,” he said.

Mark Russell, executive director of the Huntsville Sports Commission and current high school football official, says troubling behavior towards officials has led to a referee shortage.

“It’s difficult to get people to come out because of a lack of respect for officers, and we’re trying to reverse that and treat officers with more respect,” Russell said.

Which, in his opinion, will harm youth sport in the long term if not corrected quickly.

“We just have to respect the game. If we do that, everything will be fine. People will want to officiate. So many people want to be a part of the game. I think the parents have good intentions at heart. They just pull it out to recognize it often not that their actions harmed the game,” Russell said.

While Bankhead may not feel his safety has been compromised, he understands that certain officials may need an extra layer of protection after a game has ended.

“We have female officers, we have officers who may or may not be a little bit older, who may not be able to take care of themselves as well as someone like me. Safety for officers is something that’s been preached about a lot of our time by our association,” Bankhead said.

Russell says parents must always make sure they are on their best behavior, not just for kids but for the coaches and referees as well.

He says respect is the top priority and everyone should come to the games with one goal in mind: to enjoy the sport and have a great time.

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