The head of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association says intimidation of sports officials is reaching new levels and it's driving away referee recruits. Wednesday lawmakers took the first step toward cracking down on unruly parents and sports fans.
Association Commissioner Julian Tackett says the number of referees, umpires, and linesmen has declined roughly 10 percent over the past two to three years, and safety concerns are to blame.
"Parents are more aggressive than they've ever been," the commissioner said. "A lot of times they'll... go to the official's car and take trucks and other things and pin people in where they can't leave. They'll threaten them at the car. They'll chase them out of the gym. Everything that seems like that's going on around society in general, but certainly around ballgames. It's more of an exclamation point and fist banging on the table."
Testifying to that rise in violent behavior was Kenny Culp, who was assaulted while officiating a basketball tournament in Paducah — an attack that left him with a brain bleed, broken collarbone, and a fractured sinus cavity. While existing law applied in Culp's case, House Bill 65 would make intimidation of sports officials a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year behind bars.
Lawmakers agreed it's a trend that needs addressing, but some on the panel worried it's too broadly written and could turn criticism of officials into a crime.