Copyright 2017 Independent Publishing Company
All Rights Reserved
Anderson Independent-Mail (South Carolina)
The excitement that can be heard in youth soccer players' voices will be present, just as it always is when they take field for games across the state this fall.
However, if all goes as planned the first month, their voices and those of the coaches and referees will be the only ones heard.
Because of the effect heckling and poor behavior in general have had on referee retention, the South Carolina Youth Soccer Association has implemented "Silent September" for all SCYSA-sponsored league games at all levels.
According to the memo distributed by the SCYSA, there will be "no cheering, no jeering" on the part of "parents and visitors."
Upon first violation, the referee will ask the coach to counsel the offending spectator. The referee will tell the coach to do so upon second violation, and on the third instance, the referee will "direct the coach to dismiss the offending spectator(s)."
If the person doesn't leave or the coach refuses, the coach will be sent off. If an appropriate adult is not present to continue coaching, the game will be halted.
"It's kind of embarrassing for our sport," said Jimmy George, director of coaching for the Clemson Anderson Soccer Alliance. "I've played this game since I was 6. I'm getting ready to turn 40. Where has our sport gone? Where has our society gone?"
"I think it reinforces how silly the parents sometimes are," said John Lupisella, a member of the South Carolina Referee Association who serves as an assignor for the Greenville area.
"For the most part, they really don't know the rules. I think it's a great idea to make everybody aware that it's a game, and it's for the kids. Let them enjoy themselves. For the most part, they don't want to hear you."
Kenneth Ayers, state referee administrator for the South Carolina Referee Association, said the organization re-certifies only about 35 percent of its new referees each year, and the No. 1 reason given by those who don't is "the sideline behavior of the parents and fans."
"They're learning to referee while these young kids are learning to play the game, and the parents or fans are constantly heckling, yelling at, berating these young referees," Ayers said. "Over the last couple years, we've gotten to the point where we've had a number of referee assault cases. We've had a couple instances in the last year where parents have actually entered the field and physically assaulted a youth referee.
"This is just an effort to push the reset button, get back to what we believe should be acceptable sideline decorum and give us an opportunity to develop referees."
Ayers said "the youth game is exploding," but statewide there is a referee shortage.
"Our referees get certified in August, their first games are in September, and quite often we have referees that go out and referee one weekend in September and never come back," he said. "What we're trying to do is give them a chance to get one or two weekends in play, get some experience in a controlled environment and hopefully they'll be back in October and November and can develop for us."
As Ayers said, the laws of the game give referees jurisdiction over the players and coaches, but as far as fans are concerned, their jurisdiction is "quite gray." By implementing this policy, the referees will have some authority over fans as well.
George said he fears that there will be games stopped because of altercations with fans.
"I think you'll see a handful of those this year in that one month," George said. "I hope not for our sport, because I think this is a travesty for our sport. I think it's sad that parents can't cheer for their own kids.
"I have two young boys at home. I don't say anything during games, but you have families that do. "Hey, Johnny!" "Come on, Johnny!" "Run, Johnny!" They're not going to let you do any of that. That's what can hurt your sport. One father said to me, 'I'm going to sign my daughter and son up for ballet. At least you can clap at the end.'"
Andrew Hyslop is co-executive director of the Carolina Elite Soccer Academy, which has had "Silent Sundays" from time to time in the past.
"I don't think it's pointing the finger at one group in particular," Hyslop said. "I think it's coaches, players and parents kind of coming to see that there needs to be a common ground, which will allow referees, especially younger ones, to make mistakes. Players need to be allowed to make mistakes, and referees need to be allowed the same leeway. It's probably long overdue. I'd like to think in coming years we don't need to take these kinds of steps, and people can enjoy being at a game on the weekend.
"I think it's important to remember that it's the minority. It's a small percentage of the people who are ruining the game for the vast majority. It certainly doesn't mean that all of us as parents or coaches haven't said the wrong thing at the wrong time and had to look in the mirror at ourselves. That's something that we've all done. I've certainly had to do that. That's something we do on an ongoing basis."
Lupisella has served as a soccer referee for 34 years on the youth, high school and college levels.
"I can tell you as a referee, it starts with the coach," he said. "The coach is responsible for the parents. If the referees allow him to continue, then it goes from him to the players, from the players to the parents. If the referees don't take care of it, then it just gets out of hand."
George said his club, CASA, will hold a general meeting to make sure everyone understands the situation.
"I feel like the best way is just to be honest with them and let them know that the state's not playing," he said. "I see a lot of people on Facebook taking it as a joke and making fun of it, but this really isn't funny. This is something where you don't want to embarrass your child, and that's what some families will end up doing, if they haven't already."
Read More of Today's AB Headlines
Subscribe to Our Daily E-Newsletter