DES MOINES, Iowa — High school sports is just a game, but the Iowa High School Athletic Association believes some fans are taking it too far. The organization scolded disrespectful fans in a post this week, specifically for their treatment of referees.

The IHSAA’s op-ed cut straight to the point with its title: “Enough is Enough – Bad Behavior by Coaches, Parents, and Fans Must Stop.” It claims that some fans’ behavior towards referees is “unacceptable and embarrassing.”

“It’s just a matter of people understanding that it’s about being tolerant,” said Iowa High School Athletic Association President Tom Keating. “There are humans involved in this, and there are going to be human errors when it comes down to it. If we can accept that and understand that it’s not going to be a perfect game, then things will go a little bit better.”

Keating believes the fans causing problems are a small minority of the population, but worries that their behavior could drive referees away from high school sports.

The IHSAA op-ed cited this national study of high school officials, which listed the following statistics:

  • 55% of officials say verbal abuse from coaches, parents, and fans is the #1 reason they quit.
  • 59% don’t feel respected.
  • 57% think sportsmanship is getting worse.
  • 84% feel officials are treated unfairly by spectators.
  • 46% have felt unsafe or feared for their safety due to spectator, coach, administrator, or player behavior.

Some high schools, such as Valley High School in West Des Moines, remind fans to stay civil before athletic events begin.

“Please encourage the participants with positive comments and acts, and respect the decisions of the officials,” said the video played before Valley’s football game Friday night, which was recited on-camera by several Valley athletes. “What you do in the stands during the contest reflects on you, the team, and your community.”

“As fans, we’re a little crazy, but not too crazy,” said Billy Tolson, a Valley High School fan and alumnus. “We all try to be respectful, but we do cheer on the team and have fun every Friday night.”