ATLANTA — Georgia high school sports officials say incidents of bad behavior at games soared last year. And the state organization that runs high school sports will call out individual schools starting later this year.
Longtime high school referee Tim Smith sees them firsthand.
"I never worried about my safety until the last five or six years," said Smith, a 30-year basketball referee, and a 15-year football referee.
Following every high school game, referees file reports with the Georgia High School Association that detail ejections and incidents of what officials call “unsporting behavior.” And those incidents have soared in the last year.
In the 2017- 2018 school year, there were 1,644 incidents at high school sporting events according to the GHSA. One year later, officials reported 2,397 incidents. That’s a 45.8 percent increase.
Smith agrees there's been a spike. The games are "more volatile, more in your face kind of thing," he said.
Ernie Yarbrough, assistant executive director of the GHSA, said referees bear the brunt of the unsporting behavior. Yarbrough said social media emboldens parents and spectators.
"People now become what I call the Youtube experts on officiating," Yarbrough said.
But Yarbrough said much of it is rooted in travel teams and rec leagues where the coaches aren’t necessarily educators.
"For some of these club teams, I do think coaches are very reluctant to discipline kids when they act in an unacceptable manner. And what happens is, it carries over" to school leagues, Yarbrough said.
The GHSA says it plans to publish reports on its website which outlines sportsmanship incidents, both positive and negative. And it will name the schools involved.
The idea is that if folks at those schools see the data – maybe they can find a way to curb the behavior.