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In 2014, Tampa, Fla., resident Darryl Stidham was managing a Little League team when he was told he’d also have to umpire two games because of an officials shortage.
“I fell in love with it,” he told The Post. “I enjoyed the camaraderie with the other guys. When I played baseball, I was mostly a catcher. Being behind the plate is one of my favorite things on earth. It’s pure and simple.”
As the 36-year-old insurance agency owner saw his business take off, he had less time to coach. Officiating “allowed me to stay close to the game and that joyful atmosphere,” he said.
In addition to regular season games, he also umped all-star tournaments, from district to sectionals. “Last year was my first year doing the state tournament. It was my goal to work in Williamsport within five years,” he said of the home of the Little League Baseball World Series.
Instead, last week he quit for good.
“With the ever-present threat of violence, it’s just not worth it. I would prefer to stay out of the morgue than be at Williamsport.”
Since the fall, Stidham has seen a major escalation in deranged behavior from parents and coaches. He recently had to flee a field for his own safety after tossing out an unhinged manager. Then earlier this month, he experienced consecutive days of abuse from the dugout and bleachers, with one parent getting in his face and proclaiming: “It’s your job to take abuse from us.”
“That one comment really set me back … I have a full-time career and I’m just trying to give back to the community and the sport that effectively built me,” said Stidham, who earned $45 per game and worked the all-star circuit as a volunteer.
He’s part of an ever-growing roster of referees ditching their zebra stripes due to rampant abuse from coaches, parents and even players, which has led to a dire shortage of officials in youth sports. And in the past two weeks, there’s been a barrage of viral videos or incidents that have made local sports pages indistinguishable from the police blotter.
In Mississippi, softball umpire Kristi Moore was allegedly punched by a woman wearing a “Mother of the Year” shirt. During a Little League game in Denton, Texas, an umpire was shoved to the ground by a coach. In Georgia, a basketball ref was attacked by players and required 30 stitches. And on Easter Sunday in Thornton, Colo., a ref was assaulted and video of the incident was posted to TikTok.
Brian Barlow, a Tulsa, Okla., soccer official who manages Offside, a referee advocacy page on Facebook, compiles such videos in order to shame poorly behaved adults.
“It’s as bad as I’ve ever seen it,” Barlow told The Post. “Last week, my page had more engagement, more views, and I received more videos from people assaulting officials than I do in an average week.”
While referee abuse is nothing new, it’s gone from verbal jeers to physical jabs.
Barlow blames the erosion of respect for authority figures and a breakdown of mental health from the pandemic. Then there’s entitled parents who are shelling out big bucks for their children to play in ultracompetitive leagues, thinking they’ll earn a Division I scholarship.
“It’s terrifying,” said Stidham. “At what point does someone at a ballpark take out a gun and say ‘I’m going to shoot that guy’?”
From bad to worse
That sentiment ran through Kristi Moore’s head last week after she was sucker-punched in the eye by a foulmouthed parent she tossed from a softball game for 12-year-olds.
“No official should be working a game and have to worry in the back of their minds, ‘Is this the call that’s going to make someone mad enough to assault me or shoot me?’ ” Moore, 47, told The Post.
Her shocking story went viral after she posted a picture of her shiner on Facebook. “I didn’t do this for attention. I don’t want the publicity but it’s happening more than people realize,” said Moore, who received thousands of messages from fellow officials recounting similar anecdotes.
“I haven’t been out on the field since. I think I’ll make it back out there, but I don’t know when. I need a minute,” said the 5-foot-4 single mother of two.
Moore, who is also an umpire-in-chief charged with assigning and recruiting umpires, is now pushing for Mississippi to make assaulting a sports official a felony.
“There has to be consequences and accountability for this behavior. If I can use my story to change legislation or make parents and coaches second guess their behavior, then at the end of the day, this would have been worth it,” she said.