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Are referees necessary? The case against ...

I have really begun to question whether referees help or hinder matches. It seems like they become lightning rods for every questionable call. If no referee were there, the players would work it out by themselves.

In a recent match I was officiating, I got the usual angry stares and grumbling about whether I'd missed a short ball or the opposite--had I called a good serve short? What about that hinder that didn't look like it to me from up above?

Tournament veterans have learned to accept it as part of the game and don't take the grumbling too personally. But that doesn't mean it's a pleasant experience. When not playing in a tournament, we play without a referee. That accounts for 99 percent of our play. Was the serve good or short? Did the other guy get in my way? Was it a hinder? Did the ball hit the front wall? Was there a court hinder? What was the score before that last rally? We have no choice but to sort things out and ensure cordial relationships.

But once a referee is present to make those calls, some normally courteous sportsmen become jerks. The macho factor emerges. We've seen it a hundred times.

Very few people enjoy refereeing, particularly after having lost a match. The referee experience ends up adding to the disappointment of the loss.

We all know players who avoid tournament play because they fear having to referee and having to take the verbal abuse.

And let's face it: Most of us are probably not very good referees. It's not a skill set we work to improve. And, despite the USHA's attempt to train referees, most matches will continue to be officiated by players who have just lost their matches.

I played a few times in the Semper Fi Tournament in San Diego, which was a non-ref tournament for 15 years. I contacted longtime Semper Fi director Ray Leidich to ask about his experience running a non-referee tournament.

"Limited or complete no-ref tournaments can and do work and can be great stress relievers for both the players and the tournament directors," he said.

At the Semper Fi, players could request a referee before or during a match. Leidich said that rarely happened, though refs were always provided for the semis and finals.

To ensure success, Leidich's advice was to make sure all the players know the situation up front and how they are expected to act. The players who don't get with the program are not invited to return.

In our Chicago Metropolitan Handball League, the entire season is played without referees. Every Tuesday night, 75 or more players compete in 56 singles and doubles matches with a minimum of dust-ups reported. Even during the playoffs, when prize money and pride are on the line, the matches are conducted without referees.

Like the Semper Fi Tournament, referees are available if requested or determined to be necessary by league officers. That's the fall-back plan.

We need to ask ourselves if referees actually improve the tournament experience. I would encourage directors to give it a shot and try running a tournament without referees and see what happens. Your losers will appreciate it.

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Title Annotation:OFFICIATING
Author:Elsner, Jim
Date:May 1, 2016
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