Old Pueblo Abuelo: We need more referees and fewer problem parents

(Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson)

This is the 32nd installment of “Old Pueblo Abuelo,” a thought on positive things happening in the Old Pueblo from a sometimes cranky and often times humorous grandfather actually born in Tucson and writing from my desk in Tucson, the Old Pueblo.

Former University of Arizona professor and Tucson High administrator Maud McMullen is one of the first known “referees” in the Tucson area. Though girls’ basketball wasn’t recognized by the AIA for decades, McMullen led Tucson High to a mythical girls state championship in 1914 and she also served as a referee as noted in game description where Tucson beat Bisbee 30-8 at Herring Hall in 1915, home of the University of Arizona men’s team.

Maud McMullen coached Tucson and reffed the game. (Arizona Daily Star: 2/28/1915)

That was almost 110 years ago and one would have to believe it would a be a high school coach’s dream today to also serve as the referee. Some do, at least in spirit. The way things are going, coaches might have to ref again.

There has been a steady decline in available referees and umpires in almost every sport. Some say it might be due to a group of very experienced referees set on retirement, others say low pay, and others claim verbal and physical assaults from parents and fans. Whatever the cause, the lack of qualified referees is reaching a crisis point, if not already.

The Arizona Football Officials Association (AzFOA) is starting a campaign to recruit more referees (18 year old minimum for high school and 16 for youth) and it will obviously be a difficult task but needed. It’s a great opportunity for current college students to stay in the game and for “old” coaches to get back in the game while helping our kids succeed on the field.


True, the media is ripe with cases of referees being physically and verbally attacked these days and, at last count, some 18 states have specific laws on the books for assaulting sports officials. While the physical assaults might be a more recent trend, verbal assaults have been “part of the game” since the beginning of sport itself.

The introduction of a growing youth sport franchise, where some have discovered they can make lots of money out of “coaching” and “training” kids, has also made things more difficult for referees. Too many, of what I call, “AAU Dads and Uncles” are now in the mix. There were parents keeping score at a 10U youth football scrimmage this year and bragging about it on social media of all things. These are the parents who are reliving their own lives through little kids.

Parents used to be critical of kids on other teams but now we get a good run of emails, texts and message from parents cutting down their own children’s teammates in an effort to elevate their own children. We have parents cheering in the stands when a child gets hurt. We have players openly making contact with referees.

Some of the more amusing things heard coming down from the stands this year have been incorrect rules interpretations like screaming for an automatic first down on pass interference (not automatic in high school), traveling after catching an airball off of one’s own shot (only traveling in the NBA) and questioning if there really is such a thing as an infield fly rule (yes there is). Actually, that one wasn’t a question, some dad said at a Little League game, and I quote, “No wonder you’re not getting paid.”

For me, I used to be one of those “dads” and one of those “coaches” but that all changed when my wife was coaching our youngest daughter in 6U softball many years ago and the umpire told her he hated calling her games. She asked him why and he said there’s a guy in your stands who knows all the rules. That was me. Of course, his reasoning was shaky because he should have known the rules also, but I came away from the day reevaluating my situation. I promised myself I would do my best to never have a referee be more concerned about me than the game he or she was working. I’ve fallen off that wagon a few times but I’ve been mostly sober for almost two decades.

In the years since I stopped coaching, I’ve become amazed and confused and upset with the things I can now hear from the stands that I could not hear from the dugout. I try to avoid a lot of it and walk past those parents as quickly as possible. Just a couple of weeks ago at the CDO Softball Tournament two older guys asked me where, “I hired these terrible umpires?” I told them that was not appropriate and that they should go cheer for their kids.

A few years ago, a “Nana” walked into a dugout and she asked her grandchild why she wasn’t in the game. That young girl had the look of terror on her face. You’re not helping. Try to go to games thinking of ways you can support your child and his or her teammates. If that means not yelling, “and one” every time down the court then so be it.

After all, the dreams of your children should be your dreams and I’m pretty sure they aren’t dreaming of a parent getting kicked out of a game.


Named one of “Arizona’s Heart & Sol” by KOLD and Casino del Sol, Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014, he was awarded the Ray McNally Award in 2017 and a 2019 AZ Education News recognition. He was a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. He was the first in Arizona to write about high school beach volleyball and high school girls wrestling and his unique perspective can only be found here and on AZPreps365.com. Andy is a Southern Arizona voting member of the Ed Doherty Award, recognizing the top football player in Arizona, and he was named a Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly for 2016. Andy was named an Honorary Flowing Wells Caballero in 2019, became a member of the Sunnyside Los Mezquites Cross Country Hall of Fame in 2021 and he was a member of the Amphi COVID-19 Blue Ribbon Committee. He earned a Distinguished Service Award from Amphitheater and he was recognized by City Councilman Richard Fimbres. Contact Andy Morales at amoralesmytucson@yahoo.com

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
To Top