When I was a head coach at the D1 collegiate level in New England, one of my coaching peers and a good friend started to refer to the lacrosse officials/referees as a “NECESSARY EVIL.” To portray the refs in that manner became an inside joke over time amongst many of the other coaches, but unfortunately it became apparent that some of my coaching peers actually took the “NECESSARY EVIL,” depiction to heart. When I was coaching at the college level, the officials association had an evaluation process in place where every coach could fill out an evaluating rating card, which indicated the coaches’ opinion of how well he thought the refs performed their job officiating the game that was played on that particular afternoon. The coaches were instructed by the Officials Association Director to fill out the cards immediately after the game and to mail them back to his office within 24 hours. Apparently, the Director would evaluate each of the cards that he had received and then if there were any really bad complaints, the Director would follow up with a phone call to the official in question as well as with the coach who was obviously upset. The evaluation plan seemed to be a good one until the coaches started to believe that if they gave an official a bad evaluation, then when that official was assigned to do another one of their games that there would be a bias of some sort by the official (s) and the bad blood would escalate even further during the next game.
As more and more high schools and colleges made the sport a varsity program, more officials were needed in order to be able to cover all of the games. At the high schools level, not only were varsity teams added, but also, because of pressure from parents at certain schools who also had the financial resources, JV and freshman’s team were also added to their athletic programs. Regrettably, their became a shortage of officials to be able to cover all of the games that were now being played every Wednesday and Saturday by all of the New England teams (HS and College). And, with liability issues becoming prevalent and a potentially big issue every season, if certified officials were not able to be at a particular game, then more than likely the game would not be played. The District officials assigner always made sure that the college games received top preference in terms of having certified officials present, next up were the secondary school Varsity games and last on the list were the lower level games. Because of the shortage of qualified officials, many times the lower level games had only one official (usually an inexperienced ref) assigned to do the game. As a former Athletic Director I was often told, you can only have one official for your lower level game, so you can either play the game with one or have none
and can cancel the game, it is up to you. I always chose to play the game with one official, because I knew my coaches and their players wanted to compete. I also made sure to tell some of my more exuberant younger coaches to go easy on the officials and take care of things that they had control over, like instructing their players how to perform better and to not worry about “the calls.” Unfortunately, because of a certain “competitive spirit” that some of the fans (parents and friends of the participants) had for the game, particular comments yelled at the officials during the game were a bit over the top, especially since most of the fans making the derogatory comments did not have the legitimate knowledge of many of the official rules of the game. It would seem that their outburst was really an extension of their passion for wanting their team to be able to win the game above anything else.
The game of lacrosse has seen tremendous growth over the past years and lacrosse is often referred to as the “fastest growing sport in the United States.” That is great news for the game and the participants, but in reality, it is not so great news for having coverage of all of the games at all levels by certified and experienced officials. There is definitely a demand for more former players to become a certified lacrosse official and over time that will probably start to happen. In the meantime, everyone must keep in mind, that the officials that are refereeing the games are trying their best to be accurate and fair in their judgment whether there are 3, 2 or 1 man crews involved. Expecting complete perfection from the officials might be an ongoing expectation, but in reality that will probably not occur for many legitimate reasons, but the biggest one (ie, the officials are human and they are not immune from making mistakes on their jobs, just like everyone else who has a job).
So, are the officials a “NECESSARY EVIL?” I think not, rather it might be best to be happy that your game actually has certified officials, so that the game can be played and therefore your son, daughter or team member has the opportunity to play a game that is fun. And remember, they are participating in a athletic environment that teaches great life lessons as well as being able to make some great friends along the way while striving to achieve team goals. You could also take the time to become a certified official and continue to help the sport grow in a positive and productive manner.