Ted Hillary

Fans or participants that harass or intimidate an official could face penalties of community service work under a bill that is in the Wisconsin state legislature.

Sadly, it has come to this.

Hopefully, it starts to alleviate an ongoing problem.

A bill is being sponsored in the Wisconsin state Legislature that would make it a Class A misdemeanor to harass or intimidate a sports official to action taken or with intent to influence a referee, umpire, judge or anyone serving similar functions.

Bill LRB 4781 received strong support from a number of state organizations, including the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association and the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Several state Assembly representatives have lent their support, including Rep. Don Vruwink of Milton.

A lack of officials at the middle school and high school levels is a national crisis.

The decline in the numbers of high school sports officials continues at an alarming rate. Recruiting new officials is made more difficult by the lack of sportsmanship at interscholastic and youth events.

“Responding to the national crisis as a result of the shortage of amateur and youth sport officials, we applaud and recognize the Wisconsin legislature’s bipartisan efforts to create protections for the men and women that officiate these events,” WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson said. “We are grateful for their willingness to help protect and preserve these school-based activities, as well as youth and adult recreation opportunities, which contribute to the fabric of our communities and society.”

Local example

When it comes to the berating and threatening of officials, public enemy No. 1 continues to be parents living vicariously through their child’s athletic endeavors.

I got a first hand glimpse of it Thursday night at a girls basketball game between Madison East and Janesville Craig.

A parent yelled an F-bomb at one of the officials early in the second half over his failure to call a foul on a previous play.

The head official immediately came to the scorer’s table and demanded that the on-site administrator confront the offender for yelling an expletive.

Craig athletic director Ben McCormick was the on-site administrator and immediately went into the stands to issue a warning to the offender.

“All I told him was we wanted him to enjoy the game but to please refrain from using the F-word or any other derogatory-type of remark,” McCormick said. “He was a little combative in his response, so I simply told him I could bring the police up and have him escorted from the gym.”

Currently, 24 states have assault legislation, civil statutes or supportive resolutions protecting sport officials.

Fifty-seven percent of officials believe sportsmanship is getting worse, and they identify parents, coaches and fans as the cause of most sportsmanship issues. Surveys also indicate 43 percent of officials state that most new officials quit within the first one to three years.

Currently, it is a Class B forfeiture if an individual harasses, intimidates, strikes, shoves or kicks another individual, or if the individual engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits harassing or intimidating behavior with no legitimate purpose.

Bill LRB 4781 proposes a possible penalty of up to 40 hours of community service work, as well as any other penalties associated with the crime. In addition, it may require the violator to participate in counseling, including anger management or abusive behavior intervention, at the violator’s expense.

Let’s hope for the sake of fans, players, coaches, and especially officials, Bill LRB 4781 becomes law.