Welcome to the 2022-2023 Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) interscholastic athletic year. Each season brings a rebirth of inspiration, anticipation, opportunity, and expectations for a new generation of high school students.
Under the auspices of the MPSSAA, the 24 local educational agencies and the 198 member schools will support over 100,000 annual participants and 10,000 coaches this year. Member schools will hand out nearly 50,000 Minds in Motion Certificates to students who achieve a 3.25 grade point average or higher while participating in interscholastic athletics. Districts will lead local student-leadership and team captain initiatives. The MPSSAA will crown 88 state champions in 25 sport offerings, with tournament honorees donning over 5,300 lanyards and championship medals.
Outside of awards and honors is the significant identity and pride high school athletic programs bring to a community. For generations the high school athletic program has lifted communities in times of need, broken down societal barriers, and become a location for the smallest of athletes to cling to fences and seats, all the while dreaming of one day wearing the jerseys on the field with their community’s name draped across their chest.
Witnessed in a world without high school sports was the hidden magnitude of these programs on school communities and the countless volunteer hours of educators and athletic administrators to ensure their continuity. The degree of impact educational-based athletic programs and administrators have on the social, emotional, and physical well-being students has resonated in recent years to immeasurable levels with local communities and educational leaders.
With the return of another academic year, our focus must continue to be securing the longevity of these programs for future generations. This year, nearly 5,000 sport officials will register and certify to contest events all throughout the state. The high school sports official is one of the quintessential components of interscholastic athletics. Unfortunately, a grim reality is the profession is shrinking to levels that can no longer sustain demand, forcing contests to be move to non-traditional days and times, postponed, or even cancelled all together.
In recent years, campaigns, recruitment brochures, appreciation weeks, and other creative measures have sought out new officials and retention efforts with only slight impacts. Regrettably, a silent victory is being won by an eroding sense of value, respect, and acceptance of discretionary decisions. The number one reason provided for this growing crisis is the emotional, personal, and in some cases physical outbursts towards officials. If left unaddressed, the longevity of these programs is feared to be in severe jeopardy.
One must ask themselves at any given contest, if they looked around at all those in attendance and consider the banter towards officials, how many individuals in attendance would have any interest in becoming a high school sport official?
It is with this sense of urgency that as an association we take intentional actions this year to lead. As a starter, let’s pledge for:
- Local educational agencies to reinforce as a point of emphasis to athletic directors, coaches, and parents the significant need to change societal behaviors towards officials,
- Experienced and veteran coaches/educators to become a vocal proponent and mentor to other coaches on appropriate coach to official dialogue, as well as, coaching staff, player, and spectator accountability,
- All coaches to understand they are the foremost influential figure representing their school and how they have the power through action to create a positive change,
- Head coaches to set the tone by demanding participants and fellow coaches reframe from any derogatory response, dissent, or negative emotional outburst towards officials and to hold them accountable of their actions,
- Coaching staffs be prepared to address student sections, parents, and other spectators whose responses and actions do not reflect the values of your school,
- Officials to not escalate nor give credibility to spectators or assistant coaches by engaging in back-and-forth dialogue and only to work and address head coaches or facility site directors,
- Coaches and officials to take the time to thank each other at the start of each event for their respective work for the betterment of young people,
- Principals, athletic directors, and administrators to hold coaches, students, and team supporters accountable with an understanding these programs are not a right, but rather a privilege of the educational program, and
- For all entities, including but not limited to officials, coaches, athletic administrators, and educational agencies to generate a harmonious and professional experience that benefits the real winners of high school athletics, the students.
In the coming year coaches will disagree on the discretionary call of an official. Human error will exist and is part of the entire educational learning experience. However, agreeing to conduct oneself at a high level of character, and agreeing to hold others accountable to the same level of character must be a goal and vision for the betterment and longevity of interscholastic athletics.
Best wishes to a successful 2022-2023 campaign.