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Nearly everyone has witnessed a parent crossing the line with angry behavior at a youth sporting event.

Dr. Bruce Alan Kehr, the award-winning founder and president of Potomac Psychiatry, describes the scene: “This scenario not infrequently unfolds as the game begins and one of the parents starts to pace the sidelines. Next, he’s offering ‘advice’ to the game official, 'Ref, open your eyes!' Next, he may begin yelling at the opposing team’s players – children who he believes are cheating. In his state of mind, he even targets his own child for scathing criticism.”

The problem is seemingly getting worse amid other disturbing trends with youth sports.

The number of children playing team sports is falling, with experts blaming a parent-driven focus on elite travel clubs, specialization in one sport and pursuit of scholarships for hurting the country’s youth sports leagues.

More than 26 million children ages 6 to 17 played team sports in 2014, down nearly 4 percent from 2009, according to a widely cited survey by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. Total sports played have plummeted by nearly 10 percent.

Finding people willing to officiate youth sports is also becoming more difficult. More than 70 percent of new referees will have quit within three years, according to the National Association of Sports Officials. Many blame parental behavior for their exodus.

If youth sports are to rebound and prosper, there must be changes.

Toward a better day and better way, we offer the recent words of Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, writing along with Jerome Singleton, commissioner of the South Carolina High School League, in a piece titled “Dear Mom and Dad: Cool it.”

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When you attend an athletic event that involves your son or daughter, cheer to your heart’s content, enjoy the camaraderie that high school sports offer and have fun. But when it comes to verbally criticizing game officials or coaches, cool it.

Make no mistake about it. Your passion is admired, and your support of the hometown team is needed. But so is your self-control. Yelling, screaming and berating the officials humiliates your child, annoys those sitting around you, embarrasses your child’s school and is the primary reason South Carolina has an alarming shortage of high school officials.

It’s true. According to a recent survey by the National Association of Sports Officials, more than 75 percent of all high school officials say “adult behavior” is the primary reason they quit. And 80 percent of all young officials hang up their stripes after just two years of whistle blowing. Why? They don’t need your abuse.

Plus, there’s a ripple effect. There are more officials over 60 than under 30 in many areas. And as older, experienced officials retire, there aren’t enough younger ones to replace them. If there are no officials, there are no games. The shortage of licensed high school officials is severe enough in some areas that athletic events are being postponed or canceled — especially at the freshman and junior varsity levels.

Research confirms that participation in high school sports and activities instills a sense of pride in school and community, teaches lifelong lessons like the value of teamwork and self-discipline and facilitates the physical and emotional development of those who participate. So, if the games go away because there aren’t enough men and women to officiate them, the loss will be infinitely greater than just an “L” on the scoreboard. It will be putting a dent in your community’s future.

If you would like to be a part of the solution to the shortage of high school officials, you can sign up to become a licensed official at HighSchoolOfficials.com. Otherwise, adult role models at high school athletic events here in South Carolina are always welcome.

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