When it comes to sports, security matters

Whatever the age of athletes, from T-ball to pro sports, we look forward to seeing athletes perform again someday. For those involved with game administration, thoughts will return to making the games safe for the officials and fans, especially at the end of the game.

During my time as a soccer and basketball official, I wasn’t aware or that concerned about the importance of security. As time went on, I became more aware of the important role athletic administrators play in providing a safe environment.

When a game ends, the first thing a basketball official is instructed to do is jog off the court to the safe confines of the dressing room. That isn’t the time to stick around and wait for someone to ask for your autograph. That’s a joke, by the way.

Most fans will have left the premises and the parking lot by the time a game official showers and changes clothes.

In summer rec leagues, especially baseball, it’s can be a little trickier. The rec director may be there as protection or have assigned someone to help, but most officials simply walk to their cars and drive home. Depending on the intensity of the game, it can be uncomfortable in some cases.

After officiating a small-college men’s basketball game one night, a uniformed officer escorted us to our cars in the parking lot even though the game was uneventful. It was the school’s way of saying, “Leave the officials alone.”

I couldn’t help but notice the first time I walked through a metal detector before officiating a Wichita City League basketball game. It was a sign of the times that guns were becoming a potential threat at sporting events. While I didn’t mind the metal detector, the thought that crossed my mind was, maybe officiating wasn’t worth it.

After a KCAC men’s basketball game between Friends University and Tabor College in Hillsboro one night, a fan from the visiting team sucker-punched one of the officials in the gut as he left the court to go downstairs to the dressing room at Tabor. The official was OK, but he was rightfully upset.

As I recall, the next game I happened to officiate was at Friends University. It appears they assigned a burly football player to escort us to and from the court for safety purposes. Suffice it to say, no one threatened us.

For game administrators, the location of the dressing room to the field or court makes for interesting challenges. It can be a good hike in some instances. Sometimes officials have to walk through the crowd to get to the dressing room, which is far from ideal.

In addition to the athletic administrators, I also appreciated police and security officers who were present at games. Most of the time it hardly seemed necessary, but game administrators had to prepare for each game as if someone were going to do something regrettable.

Keep in mind that most fans don’t see or personally know those who officiate. But fans of the home team probably become aware of who the game administrators are at small schools. And if that administrator has to reprimand fans or ask someone to leave because of unsportsmanlike conduct, they don’t get to leave town. They still see those people in town or at the next game. That can be uncomfortable or awkward at best.

Fans are typically discouraged from rushing the court at the end of an exciting or important game, but it’s hard to control a mob. In my experience, I never felt particularly threatened the few times I worked my way through excited fans to the dressing room.

In most cases, fans are only rushing the court to celebrate with their friends and team. But I appreciated game administrators who were nearby, either making sure I was getting off the court safely or trying to help clear a path.

Let me say “thank you” to all the schools and their administrators who took their jobs seriously and made the experience better for all.