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Mistakes happen, but that does not condone unruly behavior from the bleachers

There were several calls in the Crook County-Madras football game Friday, Oct. 22 that became controversial.

The vast majority of those calls were judgment calls. In other words, calls that are a matter of perspective. That is often the case in football. How one person sees a play may be far different from how another person sees the play. The end result is that one team may believe that a penalty was committed while the other team does not.

Fans typically express their displeasure with the officials. Too often it is because of a lack of understanding of the rules. Even if the fans are right, it does no good to complain about officiating.

Currently, there is a serious officials shortage, not just in Oregon but nationwide. One of the major reasons that officials give for quitting is the garbage that they have to put up with from spectators.

There is no doubt that the officials got at least one play wrong last Friday during the Crook County Madras game. That call was a blocked kick that the Cowboys scooped up, subsequently scoring. However, the score was disallowed, because an official mistakenly blew his whistle. Inadvertent whistles happen. They are an unfortunate part of the game. The only recourse in high school football is to replay the down. That was done, but it did not work out well for the Cowboys on Friday. But that isn't the point.

Rather the play and the ensuing reaction from Crook County spectators highlight a bigger problem in sports.

Crook County head coach Pard Smith has the right perspective about controversial plays.

"I've been coaching this game for a long time, and that stuff happens in football," he said following Friday's game. "Ultimately, we would like to have a couple of those calls go a different way than they did, but those guys are doing the best that they can do and they are shorthanded and we realize that and we make it a deal to focus on the things that we can control and that stuff is out of our control, so there is really no sense in looking back or fighting our heads about it, because we can't control it."

I have participated in and watched athletics for more than 50 years. In all that time there are only twice that I have ever seen officials deliberately influence the outcome of a game.

One happened when I was a freshman in college and fans at Oregon Institute of Technology intimidated a set of basketball officials so badly that they called an offensive foul on our post player who was holding the ball over his head with less than five seconds remaining in the contest. He was tackled by an OIT player attempting to stop the clock. Instead of my teammate shooting free throws, the officials called the foul on him, OIT subsequently scored, beating us by one and taking us out of the playoffs. It was a tough loss to swallow.

In their next game, the fans attempted the same thing and this time the officials did not fold. Instead, spectators turned the officials' car on its roof and set it on fire following the game. OIT was banned from hosting playoff games for a period of time as a result.

The other time I was playing in an adult league in Southeast Alaska. One weekend we were the only white team in an otherwise all Native American tournament. In the championship game, the officials made it clear quite quickly that we were not going to get any calls. The other team did not commit a foul the entire contest, while we had three players foul out. Needless to say, we did not win the tournament championship. It was annoying, but by then I was older, and it was no longer a heartbreaking loss — it was actually kind of funny.

The point is that officials do not set out to cheat a team. In fact, the officials I know take the game very serious and do their best to not make mistakes. Still, mistakes happen. It is what happens next that defines teams and their spectators.

The University of Tennessee has recently been fined $250,000 by the Southeast Conference for the behavior of fans who threw water bottles and various other items on the field during a close loss to Ole Miss.

Unfortunately, no matter how badly they perceived the officiating to be, the Tennessee fans stepped over the line.

Sad to say, the same was true of a group of Crook County fans Friday night.

Yelling at officials will not change a call. In fact, it is more likely to cause an official to inadvertently favor the other team than it is to help your team out. In addition, it is poor sportsmanship, and just plain bad behavior.

Fortunately, on Friday, it was a relatively small group of spectators who caused a disruption. In fact, only one was actually asked to leave. However, that is one too many. No matter how egregious one may believe an officiating error is, adults have an obligation to be just that — the adults in the room.

We need more officials, not less. If you truly believe that you can do better, then by all means, sign up to officiate. On the other hand, if you don't want to officiate or actually recognize that you would not be good at it, then please watch the game and be supportive of the team you are rooting for. Stay out of the officiating. Please, be the adults in the room, not part of the problem.

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