Stephanie's Blog

Dear Mr. Ref,

Dear Mr. Ref I am not sure what drew you to ref'ing youth sports. I am sure you have an underlying passion for the sport of Basketball, that if asked, you would mutter something about wanting to make an impact in the lives of youth. I am deeply saddened by what I saw today. Your behavior on that court neither set a good standard for the game or our youth. You allowed your need to feel powerful influence your quality of work on that court. You contributed to heartbreak, confusion, anger and animosity in a time and at an event that was meant to teach our children honor, respect and dignity. It was excruciating to see the pain and confusion in the kids as they tried to make sense of the intense negativity. This environment allowed for teachable moments to become crushing moments of humiliation. It was your job, Mr. Ref, to ensure that a fair and safe game was played. Our kids are told to respect the referees. Don't talk back. Honor the game, sportsmanship and your integrity. Tonight's game left many kids and spectators from both teams feeling that these values are false promises, that a referee, an authority, cannot be trusted to be fair or kind. And yet after all of this, I am immensely thankful for your discretions today. You gave me the opportunity to see the courage and strength in these boys. They played with integrity, not accepting points they did not truly earn. They worked hard and stayed motivated even when the negativity from the crowd could be felt like a crushing weight. They listened to their coaches and followed directions, even when they did not get the call that they felt was fair. We all got to witness just how hard these boys worked all season, for this day. Many of them wept, overwhelmed by the intense disappointment of ultimately having their final game be determined by something other than their talent and will to win. Let me be clear, it was not the outcome of the game that I believe is most disappointing. It is the fact that emotions, emotions that adults should know how to manage, were allowed to impact this game to a point that this game stopped being about who the best basketball team was, and started being about who had the most power and authority. An authority that was ultimately abused and misused. Once again I am thankful. You see my son is not a player. He wanted to be. All of his friends made the team. When he came home and told me he just knew he did not make the team because he was having an "off day" the day of tryouts, I did my best to support him through his disappointment. But he did something I am incredibly proud of. He did not allow his life to be defined by a disappointment. He did not declare his predicament to be due to some unjust situation. He came home and said he had found a way to be part of the team, he was going to keep score for the home games. I was overwhelmed with pride at that moment, because I knew his character was strong and his ability to overcome life's challenges was even stronger. And today as you declared that "we can't have some kid doing this" right in front of him and the entire crowd, he kept working. Even though he felt humiliated, frustrated and small. He was not going to allow himself to be your victim. He worked hard, despite the negative comments from the other adults in the crowd. He stayed focus on "his job" one he takes a tons of pride in. He once wanted to go to "work the scoreboard" even though he had been home sick for 2 days telling me, "but Mom is it my responsibility". You see Mr. Ref, while the pain of watching my son suffer in such a way is overwhelming, I would have never had the opportunity to see just how strong he is. How incredibly resilient he is. And ultimately what an amazing man I know he will become. While the stress of the whole situation and the ultimate outcome of the game left him riddled with guilt that maybe he had some responsibility for the outcome, he was able to sit with his anger and pain without becoming jaded, without taking his frustration out on others. And now as he lies in his bed he knows his own strength and the intense respect and pride his parents have for him. 5, 10, even 20 years from now, these kids will remember not what you looked like, not what calls you did or did not make accurately, Mr. Ref they will remember how you made them feel. I know my son will look back and remember how embarrassed he was, how belittled he felt. But I also know he will remember that his parents, his teachers and his friends supported him and encouraged him. I hope and pray that every other child on that court who felt these ways also has a loving home and supportive adults in their lives to help them see their strength and appreciate this unique opportunity to grow through adversity.