By Rep. Anita Kulik
I remember last year watching a commercial for an office supply store that had a parent dancing through the aisles getting school supplies for his children with the song “Most Wonderful Time of Year” playing in the background.
I suppose that after spending a couple months chasing after children, parents crave the structure of the school year. But it does seem that summer vacation has flown by and it is hard to believe that we are again talking about a new school year.
As I presented in past articles, the Pennsylvania legislature has built record spending increases into the new fiscal budget.
Our local school districts will benefit from increased funding.
Programs for school safety grants and mental health initiatives will also see increased spending.
From my discussion with local school officials, we should be looking at good years for the districts in our areas.
The start of the school year also signals the start of new sports seasons. Some things we relish in Western Pennsylvania are our high school football programs. There is something special about Friday night football, including rivalries, marching bands, cheerleaders and good stuff at the concession stands.
Many factors make up good sports programs for our school students. The student athletes, coaches and trainers get the games going.
The support from the parents, booster organizations and school personnel keep the programs going.
There is a sometimes-forgotten group that our programs must have in order to run properly.
Nothing in our society runs properly without rules and laws. They keep things fair and safe. And so, too, our sports games do not run without rules or those that enforce the rules.
The truth is that our games cannot be played without officials.
These are these often-maligned people who take to the fields, for games for the youngest children to the college games every day of the season.
In years past, Pennsylvania had more than enough sports officials. As of late, those numbers are rapidly dwindling.
Leagues are currently scrambling to find officials to cover games.
Many Friday night football games may be moved to other days because the lack of available officials. I have had many discussions with officials from the PIAA and WPIAL, and with sports officials themselves as to why their numbers are down. Insufficient pay is one problem.
Officials use their own money for gas and food while on the road and many times the compensation they receive does not cover expenses.
Most officials, however, cite the growing problems they face with irate fans, coaches and even players for the problems they have when officiating. It is the main reason that sports officials quit.
Understandably, sports officials are natural targets when our favorite team takes a hit.
Most of us sit and play armchair official at whatever game we are watching. Lately though, these innocent criticisms too often turn into actual threats and physical violence. And such things are unacceptable in our civilized society.
I have introduced legislation that would make it a specific crime if an official is assaulted or threatened.
Now this is not intended to make a crime out of yelling down at an official who makes a bad call. It is not about calling an official names or telling him or her to get their eyes checked.
What my bill is intended to do is stem the increase in physical assaults on sports officials, including in this definition “school officials” as well.
Following an official to their car and threatening him or her is well beyond the normal criticism they receive. Actually inflicting physical harm to a person is criminal.
And while these actions are arguably covered in our Crimes Code, the significant increase in assaults on officials deserves separate attention.
Sports programs are important to our children.
They teach team play, responsibility and physical skills.
Imagining these programs running without officials is impossible.
But with the significant drop in new officials and the great number of those leaving officiating, it is time to look at the cause of the problem.