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An open letter to unruly parents of high school athletes

Participation numbers in high school football across America are down at alarming rates, and it would be foolhardy to say head injuries and the threat therein aren't an existential threat to football in America -- at least, to football as we know it. But high school football faces a threat even more existential than that: a nationwide shortage of referees.

Only 20 percent of officials return for their third year on the job, and many among that group are close to aging out of the job -- and they're not being replaced by new, younger refs.

It turns out people have better things to do with their time than get yelled at by parents. Who could have ever guessed?

A survey of 2,000 high school athletics directors across the country found that 62.3 percent of respondents listed "dealing with aggressive parents and adult fans" as their least favorite part of the job.

To confront this issue, National Federation of State High School Associations executive director Karissa Niehoff and Ohio High School Athletic Association executive director Jerry Snodgrass penned an open letter to parents of high school athletes, asking them to follow these guidelines:

1. Act Your Age. You are, after all, an adult. Act in a way that makes your family and school proud.

2. Don’t Live Your Life Vicariously Through Your Children. High school sports are for them, not you. Your family’s reputation is not determined by how well your children perform on the field of play.

3. Let Your Children Talk to the Coach Instead of You Doing It for Them. High school athletes learn how to become more confident, independent and capable—but only when their parents don’t jump in and solve their problems for them.

4. Stay in Your Own Lane. No coaching or officiating from the sidelines. Your role is to be a responsible, supportive parent—not a coach or official.

5. Remember, Participating in a High School Sport Is Not About Getting a College Scholarship. According to the NCAA, only about 2% of all high school athletes are awarded a sports scholarship, and the total value of the scholarship is only about $18,000.

6. Make Sure Your Children Know You Love Watching Them Play. Do not critique your child’s performance on the car ride home. Participating in high school sports is about character development, learning and having fun—not winning and losing.

Purchasing a ticket to a high school athletic event does not give you the right to be rude, disrespectful or verbally abusive. Cheer loud and be proud, but be responsible and respectful. The future of high school sports in Ohio is dependent on you.

Unfortunately, as is the case in dealing with bad apples in all walks of life, it'll be the good parents who take this advice to heart and the unruly ones who find ways to miss it. Over-the-top parents are a serious, serious issue in high school and youth athletics, and it's on parents, coaches and administrators to police their own, because officials have decided they'd rather quit than deal with them.