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Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

For heaven’s sakes people, grow up.

Your boorish behavior at prep basketball games is precipitating a crisis. Fewer and fewer men and women are willing to officiate kids’ games because adults cannot behave themselves.

The Illinois High School Association currently has a letter on its website, www.ihsa.org, written by Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, and Crag Anderson, executive director of the IHSA, that eloquently states the severity of the problem.

The letter delineates the difference between enthusiastic, supportive fans and abusive louts. Obviously, more fans fit into the former category than the latter, but make no mistake, there are plenty of loud, ill-informed boors populating the bleachers.

During the recent holiday tournament season I watched about 10 games. In two of those games, the officials threw fans out of the gym. Speaking for myself, there were probably another half-dozen that deserved to be ejected.

A couple of observations: First, most high school sports fans have an emotional attachment to the team on the field or floor. Not just as an alumni, but as a friend, parent, sibling and grandparent. These fans view games through glasses tinted by the color of their favorite team.

I watch hundreds of games each year on a professional level, meaning I have no dog in the fight. Night after night, I’ll see officials berated for making a call that looked blatantly obvious to me. If fans would take a deep breath and step back for a moment, I think they’d find the officiating is much better than they think.

Second, officials do make mistakes. They’re human. But, I’ve never watched a basketball game where a team never threw the ball away, missed a layup or made a physical error. Games never are decided by one play, one call. Deal with it.

At a recent game, fans of one school were sure they were getting hosed by the officials. At the end of the game, one of the fans cheering for the team that last demanded to know the discrepancy in fouls. His team was whistled for 20 fouls, the opposing team 13. He seemed vindicated.

However, another fan seated near me asked a more salient question … “How many free throws did we miss?” The team in question made just 5-of-10 and lost by three points.

As adults, we need to do better.

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

That’s damning. That’s ridiculous.

One of the justifications for interscholastic sports is that athletic competition is supposed to teach discipline and respect.

It looks like it’s the adults that need to learn these values.

Think before you scream. Your children on the floor will appreciate it. Your school administrators will appreciate it. The fans in the seats near you will appreciate it.

It’s not really that difficult.

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LES WINKELER is the sports editor for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com, or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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