WINCHESTER, Ky. (WKYT) - The number of high school athletic officials is at an alarming low in Kentucky.
In 2012, there were 4,299 licensed referees. Last year, there were 3,986. Why? An op-ed co-written by Kentucky High School Athletics Association Commissioner Julian Tackett said it's mom and dad's fault.
"Our main concern is if we get enough officials who just decide they're not going to take it anymore, the kids aren't going to get the participation opportunity," Tackett told WKYT Investigates. "It's a combination of things. It's a little bit of a lack of supervision. It's a little bit of lack of self-control, but where it can be stopped is with the parents."
Since 2012, there has been a steady decline in registered officials in the state. In fact, there were 313 fewer officials in 2018 than in 2012.
The most troubled sport by far when it comes to having enough officials is basketball. That sport is down 111 referees over the last two seasons. The next biggest drop is football. 77 officials have quit over the last two seasons.
Every sport except soccer, volleyball and wrestling has lost referees.
The op-ed reported 75 percent of all high school officials say "adult behavior" is the reason they hung up the whistle.
"I think that we as a society have accepted the fact that not only should you be negative, but you should be negative loudly," Tackett said. "A study done a few years ago by the National Association of Sports Officials said the environment at the games is the number one problem and controllable problem with the registration."
Parents getting fired up and sometimes out-of-control on officials and coaches isn't new. WKYT found video from a huge fight during a basketball game in Prestonsburg in 1992. In 2009, a player's father came down from the stands to have a word with the coach. It ended up with a fight involving state police.
"Most of the time if you pay attention, there's this guy in the stands, and he's chirping loudly. His kid looks up there, catches an eye and drops his head, like 'Oh my God, that's my dad,'" Tackett said.
Mike Goins assigns all the officials from middle school through varsity to games in his region.
"I go to games just about every night," he said from the stands of a girls basketball game between Clark County and Bourbon County. "I had to tell a school today, they wanted to add a game tonight, and I said, 'No, we don't have anything available.'"
On a typical Tuesday night in January, there are 64 games going on just in Goins' region of the state. WKYT Investigates asked Goins if the state may find itself in a position where we won't have high school sports because of the lack of officials.
"I think it needs to change if it keeps going in the direction it's going now. It's hard to say in a few years there won't be enough officials to actually do the game," Goins answered.
Both Goins and Tackett agree the pressure is being felt most on the young officials. In many parts of the state, there are more officials over 60 than under 30. They say the younger referees would rather just quit than put up with the parents. 80 percent of younger officials admit they quit because they didn't want the verbal abuse from parents.
"What I think is missing is there was a time when that did go on and the school administration said, 'No, don't do that,'" Tackett said.
Goins said there needs to be accountability from school leaders as well.
"The administrator, the principals, we've got to have support from them," Goins said. "If we don't feel like they have their back, that's not a real good feeling for the officials."