DEPTFORD TOWNSHIP, N.J. (NewsNation) — One New Jersey Little League is forcing parents who act out at kids’ sporting events to back up their tough talk with action from a new rule that’s already proving to be a game-changer nationwide.
From Little League baseball to Pop Warner football, parents have been taking it a bit too far over the last decade, behaving poorly and abusing officials — or each other — at their kids’ games.
It’s an issue that’s plagued youth sports leagues from California to Connecticut, with parents and spectators lashing out at referees over perceived blown calls, some incidents even breaking out into a physical brawl.
But now, Deptford Township Little League has implemented a new rule, telling parents who abuse the umpires, “If you think you can do better, prove it.”
The league forces spectators who abuse umpires to come work as officials for the league or face an indefinite suspension.
“Our umpire pool has gotten so low we had to do something. And this is not just in my league. This is not specific to Deptford Little League. This is all across the country,” Don Bozzuffi, the president of Deptford Township Little League, said.
Game officials said there’s more to umping than blowing the whistle.
“We want to shed some light and let them see what it’s like out there, what these volunteers go through in the course of a game. And maybe they’ll understand,” Bozzuffi said.
Bozzuffi explained that if the rule is enacted, there will always be a certified umpire on the field with the parent, or spectator, who has to suit up and call the game to make sure the right calls are being made.
The new rule has gotten the seal of approval from Little League International, and now, the Deptford Township Little League has officials from across the country reaching out to see how they can bring this innovative approach to dealing with unruly parents to their leagues.
This year alone, a brawl broke out in South Carolina between parents and referees at a girls’ basketball game, a Florida police sergeant was arrested for assaulting a referee at a youth soccer match and a Vermont man died of cardiac arrest after taking part in a melee at a middle school basketball game.
In recent years, due to extreme working conditions, referees have been walking off the job.
According to the National Federation of State High School Association, an estimated 50,000 high school referees quit between 2018 and 2021 — a nearly 20 percent loss nationwide. That loss extends to leagues for younger players, too.