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Fed-up youth sports referees push back against abusive parents: ‘At least one game I do, everyday, I get yelled at’

NORMAN, Okla. –  It’s a problem that is happening more often. Parents, caught on camera, abusing referees. But now, some Oklahoma referees are hoping to book parents and send them off with their own social media red card.

At 13 years old, soccer referee Michelle Harris already has three years of refereeing the game she loves under her belt. But at times, it’s a struggle.

“At least one game I do everyday, I get yelled at,” Harris said. “I`ve wanted to quit for a couple years because I just feel tired of getting yelled at by people.”

People who yell unspeakable things. Things Harris refused to repeat.

“I just don`t feel like it`s appropriate to say again.”

“I don`t think parents realize that that`s somebody`s child out there,” said soccer coach Lindsay Bartlett, who says the abuse has gotten out of control. “You know, what would you do if somebody was speaking to your child like that?”

She insists yelling at the refs, coaches, or even yelling orders at their kids is counterproductive and inappropriate.

“I make it clear to my parents that I won`t tolerate any of that,” said Bartlett.

But not all coaches share that policy. After more videos of the verbal abuse began surfacing, a veteran soccer official decided to do something about it.

Brian Barlow started the “Stop Tormenting Officials Permanently” or “STOP” initiative to get bystanders to act, hold out-of-line parents accountable and ask other adults to step in when it escalates.

“Just as simple as saying, ‘Hey, hey, hey, stop. It`s not worth it.”

If the person doesn’t stop, Barlow asks people to pull out their cell phone and record a video. He then offers $100 for the video to then be posted to his Offside Facebook Page.

“People now know that we`re watching and no one wants to be recorded, looking like a jerk,” he said.

It’s just the beginning of the initiative, but it’s a start to restore the spirit of the game and retain good referees.

“It’s never going to be a perfect game,” said Barlow. “Respect the referees.”