POLK COUNTY, Iowa -- Step on an Iowa high school field or inside a gym and you instantly hear and feel passion. "There`s not many things more fun than an official walking in knowing it`s a big game and an important game," said an anonymous metro high school referee who wished to remain anonymous due to repercussions from fans and the Iowa High School Athletics Association. Lately referees are also hearing something else from players, coaches and fans. "We`ve had parents waiting for us at our vehicle. We`ve had to be escorted out to our vehicles by police because of threats made during the game. I've been hit with objects during the game. People have said disparaging things about my wife who they don`t know who she is and about our parents, about our kids," said the referee. They added, "It`s not a matter of having thin skin, it`s a matter of am I really in a dangerous situation right now?"
Treatment of officials has hit center stage after 44 year old and now former assistant football coach at Lincoln High School Jason Storm was arrested and charged with harassment on a referee after a controversial no call on targeting last Friday night when the Railsplitters played against Dowling Catholic High School. The referee said, "We all get heated but especially coaches they are the leaders and set the tone for the kids and fans and when those things come out of the coaches mouth that shows the kids it is ok."
The current IHSAA rule book cites targeting as any "act a player takes aim and initiates contact against an opponent above the shoulders with the helmet, forearm, hand, fist, elbow, or shoulders." The referee said, "A lot of people talk about people favor Dowling or Valley High School and it`s not like that. You don`t see who the school is. You are watching a play."
Verbal attacks are making referees, already low in numbers with veteran experience, hang up the whistle. "Sometimes it`s like why am I spending time away from my family when these people don`t want me here and my physical well-being is in jeopardy," said the referee.
The list of schools they officiate is also getting smaller, not because they`ve lost their love for the game but because of harassment. "There`s a function where we are assigned where you can block schools off and there are a couple where I won`t go and I don`t want to go there for $100 and five hours of getting screamed at and cussed at all night," said the referee.
The Des Moines Officials Association held a closed-door meeting Wednesday night for film review and discussion. The IHSAA has yet to release a statement on the incident from Friday's game.