Sportsmanship and a shortage of referees, WIAA asks parents in the crowd to ‘cool it’

In an effort to promote better sportsmanship and address the shortage of referees, our partners at the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) have released a message for parents of athletes in Wisconsin.

Contests are being rescheduled, postponed and even cancelled because there are no officials available, and the WIAA says it is largely due to improper etiquette from spectators in the stands.

Here is what they have to say: 

Dear Mom and Dad: Cool It

Written by Karissa Niehoff, Executive Director of the National Federation of State High School Associations and David Anderson, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association. 

If you are the mother or father of a high school athlete here in Wisconsin, this message is primarily for you.

When you attend an athletic event that involves your son or daughter, cheer to your heart’s content, enjoy the camaraderie that high school sports offer and have fun. But when it comes to verbally criticizing game officials or coaches, cool it.

Make no mistake about it. Your passion is admired, and your support of the hometown team is needed. But so is your self-control. Yelling, screaming and berating the officials humiliates your child, annoys those sitting around you, embarrasses your child’s school and is the primary reason Wisconsin has an alarming shortage of high school officials.

It’s true. According to a recent survey by the National Association of Sports Officials, more than 75 percent of all high school officials say “adult behavior” is the primary reason they quit. And 80 percent of all young officials hang up their stripes after just two years of whistle blowing. Why? They don’t need your abuse.

Plus, there’s a ripple effect. There are more officials over 60 than under 30 in many areas. And as older, experienced officials retire, there aren’t enough younger ones to replace them. If there are no officials, there are no games. The shortage of licensed high school officials is severe enough in some areas that athletic events are being postponed or canceled—especially at the freshman and junior varsity levels.

Research confirms that participation in high school sports and activities instills a sense of pride in school and community, teaches lifelong lessons like the value of teamwork and self-discipline and facilitates the physical and emotional development of those who participate. So, if the games go away because there aren’t enough men and women to officiate them, the loss will be infinitely greater than just an “L” on the scoreboard. It will be putting a dent in your community’s future.

If you would like to be a part of the solution to the shortage of high school officials, you can sign up to become a licensed official at Otherwise, adult role models at high school athletic events here in Wisconsin are always welcome.

Be the true champion.

Sportsmanship doesn’t stop when the game ends. It is part of the community you live in.

We believe there’s something more important than just winning or losing a tournament. We believe that the team, school, and fans who support their athletes with dignity and class are the true champions.

That’s why we’ve proudly sponsored the WIAA/Rural Mutual Insurance Sportsmanship Award for more than 50 years. Learn more about our community involved here. 

Has your school won the Sportsmanship Award?

Click here to see all the Sportsmanship Award Winners.

Will your community win the Sportsmanship Award?

The Sportsmanship Award recognizes the entire community for their conduct and appreciation for good sportsmanship – not just the athletes and coaches – but their fans and community and how they present themselves at state tournament events.

All schools are eligible for the award, regardless of the number of games played.

Judging will be done by game officials, scoring personnel, WIAA tournament management, security personnel, parking personnel, hotel personnel, and regional and sectional tournament managers.

Learn how to win the WIAA/Rural Mutual Sportsmanship Award. The judging criteria includes evaluations of these 6 categories…