TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) – A proposal for a new law looks to tackle angry coaches, parents and fans.
If you as much as poke a referee you could face time behind bars. This as Indiana joins a growing number of states hoping to protect sports officials.
“It means a lot to a lot of people, and sometimes the crowds can get rowdy,” said Ace Hunt, who has been officiating high-school games, across the state, for nearly 20 years. On occasion, it’s landed him at the center of controversy.
“There were two minutes left, and a fellow official blew an inadvertent whistle. The team that the inadvertent whistle was against was the home team, so we had to have a pretty good police escort out of that high-school,” said Hunt.
The incident was not quite as violent as the high-profile case in Texas last month. Officials report two high-school players intentionally tackled a referee, shedding light on a much bigger issue.
“You put your trust in their parents, and their teachers and their coaches that they’ll train the kids to do the right thing,” said Hunt.
Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, wants to dampen what he and others say is a growing threat of violence at athletic events.
He has filed a measure that ups the penalty for battery committed against a certified official for any sport, from Little League baseball to Colts games in Indianapolis. Fans, players, or coaches can face up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine.
“You know it’s just a great thing, and a protection for us in a profession where there is not a lot of protection,” said Hunt, who believes the proposed punishment fits the crime.
Hunt said while he’s never felt his life was in danger, he’s noticed threats of violence have increased in recent years. “With a lot more sports on TV I think there’s a lot more of examples that I think influence kids.”
Hunt hopes cooler heads prevail and said they often do, but he also believes tougher penalties are a necessary deterrent.
“You know it’s nice to know sometimes that someone is out there sticking up for the third team on the field.”
The Indiana High School Athletic Association, which endorses the measure, said aggressive behavior by fans, parents and players has made it tougher to recruit qualified officials. It hopes tougher penalties will have a chilling effect on bad behavior.