Ohio lawmakers want to put an end to the assault of sports officials at all levels. New bi-partisan legislation in the Ohio General Assembly — House Bill 208 and Senate Bill 118— would raise the penalty for assaulting an on-the-job umpire or referee from a misdemeanor to a fifth-degree felony, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $2,500 fine.
According to Cleveland.com, it’s already a felony in Ohio to assault teachers, coaches, school administrators and bus drivers.
“We want to make sure that the people who officiate — really, in many cases, it’s almost a volunteer activity — that they are well-protected,” Republican State Rep. Bill Roemer, a co-sponsor of the House bill, told Cleveland.com, adding that the bill is supported by the Ohio High School Athletic Association, as well as referee and umpire associations.
In January, Jerry Snodgrass, executive director of the OHSAA, and Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, jointly wrote a letter to Ohio parents arguing that the berating of officials by adults is a primary cause of “an alarming shortage” of high school referees and umpires.
The shortage is a national problem, and the letter cited a National Association of Sports Officials survey indicating that more than 75 percent of all high school officials say “adult behavior” is the primary reason they quit. What’s more, 80 percent of all new officials put away their whistle after just two years.
Ohio is seeking to take legislative action as a GoFundMe page inches closer to its goal of $10,000 to help cover medical expenses for a 60-year-old basketball referee. The officials was knocked unconscious by the coach of a Michigan youth team at a Southern Illinois Select basketball tournament at the Paducah Regional Sports Plex in Kentucky.
Following a 14-and-under game between Fresh Skills Elite of Flint, Mich., and Ball Hogg Academy of Edwardsville, Ill., Kenny Culp was reportedly attacked by Fresh Skills Elite coach Keyon Menifield for failing to call what the coach deemed to be a foul late in the game. Culp suffered numerous injuries, including a broken collarbone, a crack in his sinus cavity, a concussion and bruises on his face.
According to USA Today, Culp was released after nine days at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. Menifield, meanwhile, faced a misdemeanor charge of second-degree assault of a sports official, which later was upgraded to a felony.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Dwaine Crick, assigning secretary for the Kentucky High School Athletic Association and the creator of the GoFundMe page for Culp, told USA Today. “I’ve been around this game 40-plus years. I’ve seen some irate coaches, but when it comes to blows, I’ve never seen that.”