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Referee of Nisky-Schdy girls soccer game highlights broader respect problems

Referee of Nisky-Schdy girls soccer game highlights broader respect problems

Referee: Disrespect is major problem in youth soccer
Referee of Nisky-Schdy girls soccer game highlights broader respect problems
A girls soccer game at Niskayuna High School in a 2014 file photo.
Photographer: Gazette File Photo

CAPITAL REGION -- Jim Mangano, who officiated Tuesday’s varsity girls soccer game between Niskayuna and Schenectady, said the inappropriate conduct of student fans at that game reflected a broader lack of respect toward referees and players.

The game, Niskayuna's senior night and a 9-0 win for Niskayuna, was marred by racist comments that some Niskayuna students in the crowd directed at Schenectady players. 

Mangano said he did not hear the racist comments that some Niskayuna students directed toward Schenectady players, but he did nearly stop the game during the first half in response to other trash talk emanating from the Niskayuna student section. He said Niskayuna student fans demeaned the Schenectady team by saying they weren’t good enough to be a junior varsity team.

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At halftime, Mangano said, he approached Niskayuna athletic director Larry Gillooley about the trash talk he had heard. His fellow referee also heard jeers directed at Schenectady players and complaints about calls that referee had made, which they also reported to Gillooley. Gilloley separated groups of students for the second half, Mangano said.

“I could begin to feel something foment if it continued on,” he said in an interview Thursday. “The fact was it was negativity and it was inappropriate. You are talking about players from a different place who have earned a varsity spot.”

Mangano said the troubling comments were primarily emerging from the Niskayuna student section and that the players on the field and the adults in other crowd sections didn’t appear to be echoing the student behavior.

While Mangano said he does not regularly notify athletic directors about comments from the crowd he finds troubling, he does think there is a broader deterioration of respect toward referees and athletes occurring in the youth soccer games he officiates in the Capital Region.

Mangano, who has officiated high school and youth club games in the Capital Region for about 20 years, said the culture of negativity and disrespect starts early and carries into the high school level. He said parents and coaches, many of whom question a referee’s integrity over a call that goes against their side, set an example that informs the behavior of young players and, ultimately, the crowds who turn out for games.

“The comments they are making are totally inappropriate and violate the school’s or anyone’s code of conduct,” Mangano said of what he heard during the game.

Gathering information

Niskayuna school district officials are still gathering information about what happened during Tuesday’s game, Niskayuna spokeman Matt Leon said Thursday, but the two districts are also looking to turn the incident into a teachable moment.

Schenectady Superintendent Larry Spring and Niskayuna Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. have been in contact since Tuesday’s game and students in both district haves expressed an interest in establishing a dialogue among students in the two districts.

“We have had some pretty overwhelmingly positive responses from students and adults alike who collectively recognize that [behavior] is incredibly inappropriate and not acceptable and represents some beliefs that don’t fit with the norms of our community,” Spring said.

In an interview Thursday, Spring said the two districts were working out the logistics of bringing students together in the coming days to begin discussions about how students from the neighboring districts can work together and interact more often.

“It was the kids that said maybe we could be doing more things together as students,” Spring said. “This is an opportunity for us, I think, we have some kids that may be wise beyond their years and they want to exercise leadership.”

Trying to stop referee abuse

Mangano has a red penny he wears before and after games that sends a message he hopes will gain more traction in the region’s youth sports: Stop Tormenting Officials Permanently.

Started by a referee in Oklahoma – who pays $100 for videos of parents behaving wildly at athletics in an effort to raise awareness of the verbal abuse directed toward referees – the STOP campaign is spreading around the country, and Mangano has taken it upon himself to lead the effort in the Capital Region.

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He said referees have long been mistreated and that coaches, parents and players alike feel empowered to critique, question, ridicule and outright bully referees during games. In some cases, parents have gotten in his face or followed him to his car after games.

“You’ve got to point to somebody, you’ve got to blame somebody,” he said. “The referee is a perfect target for three groups: parents, coaches and players.”

He said the climate has become so bad that he worries about attracting and retaining young referees to fill the ranks as a generation of older officials call it quits.

He said school districts can do more to extend the anti-bullying efforts they enforce in the classroom to the athletic field.

“You want to treat other people how you want be treated,” said Mangano. “They are teaching that in school, but it’s not carrying over to sports.”

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