A rule referees might want to return

Watch any sporting events and you’ll likely hear at least some booing of a referee or umpire by fans.

On rare occasions, the official will ask a fan to exit the building. But what if officials could really strike back, say make it really count?

For at least a few years, basketball officials could.

Not many examples have popped up from game reports, but in the 1940s-50s, the referees could turn that scowl into a foul: Free throws could be awarded for fans’ rowdyism.

Rowdyism is something that thankfully seems to have simmered down a good bit since that era. Fans can be nasty, but threats of serious violence are rare.

Fort Valley’s basketball boosters seem to have been so bad in January 1948, that the local newspaper, The Leader-Tribune was embarrassed.

“A high school basketball court is no place for prize-fight tactics. Yells of “he’s no good, take him out … kill ’em … kill the umpire” … accompanied by frequent boos and catcalls, serve only to enrage visitors and embarrass high school students, thus humiliated by the sorry spectacle of such behavior on the part of their elders.”

People from other towns were taking notice, said The Leader-Tribune, and the much-better-behaved kids were referring to it as “adult delinquency.” The paper offered some advice:

“Since we can’t set a good example, let’s follow theirs. Next time you go to a basketball game on the home court or elsewhere, take your good manners along. There is no better place to air them than in the presence of the youth of our community.”

No mentions were made of referees punishing Fort Valley, but a year earlier a young Jesse Outlar – writing for the Waycross Journal-Herald – shook his head at behavior witnessed at a Waycross-Nahunta game.

Booing caused Nahunta to be awarded nine technical foul shots on one play.

“Referee Glenn Paulk called one foul on a Bulldog player then the fans made nine in succession. As everyone knows, when the home crowd hisses and howls while an opponent attempts to shoot a free shot, then the official may call a technical foul. The fact that Nahunta missed nine of the ten is no factor.”

Outlar said most of the booing came from junior high students in the balcony, but their youth was no excuse for a negative reaction.

The rule was still on the books in 1952, when the appropriately-named Joe Sports said it almost cost the Douglas Pirates a game against Nashville.

“The boys game proved to be a different contest as the score remained close through out the game. Douglas managed to keep a few points lead until the 4th quarter when the score was tied 40 to 40. Nashville took a point lead by virtue of a technical foul called on the Douglas fans for unnecessary noise and booing. With only 40 seconds left to play, Douglas’ star forward, Bobby Green, stepped into his territory and shot. The ball sacked the net for 2 points to give the local boys a 42 to 41 win.”

Sources: The Leader-Tribune – Jan. 15, 1948;  Waycross Journal-Herald – Jan. 8, 1947; Coffee County Progress – Jan. 27, 1952.

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