When my daughter turned 11 back in 1994, I decided I would add refereeing to my soccer coaching bag of tricks, figuring that she wouldn’t be playing for many more years and that officiating would be a great way to stay involved in Newton youth sports. Well, I ended up coaching for 27 years anyway, well after my daughter moved on; but refereeing has also been a constant in my recreational life. A few years ago, I joined up with EMSOA, the organization that assigns officials for the games at Newton North and Newton South and other public and private high schools in the region. Besides the chance for regular exercise and the challenge of making calls in fast-moving games, the camaraderie with other officials has been an extra bonus. And I’ve witnessed some terrific coaches, like NNHS’s Peter Goddard, who get that the game is part of the academic day and teach lessons about responsibility and citizenship, in addition to foot skills.

And so it was with great sadness that I read an article a few weeks ago by Newton’s Mary Fitzgerald, outlining why she has given up this activity. I’ve known Mary for years as a fellow coach, referee, and, most recently, as an assessor who helped me and other referees review our officiating judgment and technique so we could do a better job. Mary’s essay does not take aim at misbehaving schoolchildren. Rather, it is an indictment of the adults surrounding the children–parents, coaches, and school administrators–who fail to do their job, “role models who refused to honor their responsibility and hold them (the players) accountable for their own mistakes and instead blame me.”  She concludes: “It was enough to break my heart — and led to my decision to stop officiating high school soccer.”

Mary is no weak willed person who lacks staying power. Quite the opposite. And she has inspired many players and colleagues over the years with her manner, devotion, and toughness. So when our children lose someone like her in this role, we all really lose someone who brings value to their lives.

Why do I write this now? Talking with many others over the weeks since Mary’s article was published, I was left to worry that the kind of nasty discourse that she describes has grown in frequency and intensity in school- and neighborhood-based interactions and events. Unless the adults in the room speak up when this occurs, we will not only drive out manners but also people of good will who are the glue of our community.