Foul Ball: WIAA down 1,600 officials since 2019; fan abuse a big reason why
WIAA, La Crosse area sports officials are calling on lawmakers to pass bill to make fan abuse a misdemeanor
VIROQUA, Wis. (WKBT) – A survey by the National Association of Sports Officials shows nearly half of sports officials in Wisconsin fear for their safety at games. Abuse from parents and coaches has forced several to hang up their whistles.
“I’ve been doing this 43 years, I’ve never called a perfect game yet,” said Bruce Kaiser, a youth sports official in southwest Wisconsin and southeast Minnesota.
The hero at a ball game is rarely the person you hear behind home plate, but officials like Bruce Keiser are required for kids to play ball.
“I do football, basketball, and baseball,” Kaiser said.
The La Crosse Central graduate finds joy on the baseball diamond.
“I still love the game,” he said. “I told my wife if I’m still having fun doing it, I’ll keep doing it.”
There is a foul part of sports that comes from the bleachers.
“The fans get to be a little bit tricky,” Kaiser said.
We’ve covered this story before with official Jim Dolsey.
“Unfortunately 80 percent of new officials quit by the end of their second year,” Dolsey said in March of 2019.
A fight between parents at a wrestling tournament in Kimberly sparked a statewide conversation two years ago. That altercation was a testament to parent behavior these officials witness too often.
“Sixty-four percent of them (sports officials) have thrown somebody out of a gym or contest in one-way shape or form,” Kaiser said.
Wisconsin officials’ average age is 45 years old; it used to be 25 years old. New officials quit on average 1-3 years later.
“They just don’t want to deal with it,” Kaiser said.
WIAA sports has lost 1,600 officials since 2019.
“We’re down 20 percent,” Kaiser said.
Daniel Skaar understands. He officiated youth sports for 38 years. Today he watches for the enjoyment.
“It’s a pretty thankless job,” Skaar said about the nature of sports officiating.
Wisconsin Assembly Bill 158 aims to disqualify bad behavior with a penalty.
“Make it a misdemeanor if you abuse an official,” Kaiser said.
If passed, violators could face fines up to $10,000 and nine months in jail.
“I got tripped a few times,” Kaiser said about times he missed a call during a basketball game. “I had a coach take a swing at me after a game.”
Fans rarely celebrate their correct calls. The umps in the bleachers always point out their misses.
“Boy you make one mistake and it’s all over the YouTube and anything like that,” Kaiser said. “That’s hard.”
Skaar said decades of experience help experienced officials shake off difficult fans.
“You have to have thick skin, and bad hearing like I have,” he said.
Their argument is simple: After all, this is still just a game.
“The sun’s gonna come up tomorrow morning,” Kaiser said. “It’s not that big a deal.”
Some heroes don’t wear jerseys. But without them, the lights go out and so does a child’s chance to swing away.
The bill has received bipartisan support so far. Bruce said bad fan behavior not only is negative for officials but also sets the wrong example for student-athletes.
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