INDIANAPOLIS, IN - Conference Carolinas, building on an idea from its student-athlete advisory committee, is organizing a league-wide Officials Appreciation Night during a series of conference basketball games this coming season. The initiative aligns with Division II’s game-environment effort, but − perhaps more importantly − it comes from the student-athletes who may have something to teach the fans who otherwise feel entitled to give game officials their two cents.
Sarah Hebberd, junior lacrosse player at Pfeiffer and a member of both the Conference Carolinas SAAC and the national Division II SAAC, said student-athletes on the league committee embraced the idea as a chance to emphasize a positive relationship among student-athletes and the people who affect – and often protect – their play with their knowledge of the rules and their orchestration of the flow of games.
“Our SAAC is hoping that this will be the start of improved attitudes and sportsmanship toward all officials, not just basketball referees,” Hebberd said. “While these ‘appreciation nights’ will be one-time events, we hope our conference SAAC members can use their influence to promote positive behavior from fans, whether that is by holding up a sign that is encouraging the official or simply discouraging slurs made toward officials through leadership.”
Discussions about the particulars are not final, but the events likely will be conducted during conference games in February. Hebberd also said that even though basketball has been selected as the sport to “host” the events, the initiative targets respect for officials in all sports.
“We are hoping that it will carry over and encourage students and other fans to fully appreciate all sport officials,” she said.
Conference Carolinas members are Anderson (South Carolina), Barton, Belmont Abbey, Coker, Converse, Erskine, Lees-McRae, Limestone, Mount Olive, Pfeiffer, Queens (North Carolina) and St. Andrews Presbyterian. Schools will have substantial autonomy in how they stage their own Officials Appreciation Night, but Hebberd said the conference SAAC is urging all schools to set up a hospitality room for officials, to display ample signage in the gym promoting the event and to have fans wear black and white clothing as a visual show of support. Schools also are encouraged to devote at least a portion of the halftime show to honoring that night’s game officials.
The conference also will provide each home team 50 T-shirts as contest giveaways for fans.
“We also discussed tying in our Make-A-Wish efforts to these events by charging people (a dollar, for example) if they are not wearing black or white,” Hebberd said. Those proceeds would go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a charity that Division II collectively supports.
Division II Vice President Mike Racy said the Conference Carolinas effort is another example of creative thinking from the people who often have the best ideas – student-athletes.
“Division II presidents and administrators are creative in how they develop strategic initiatives that advance the division’s broader goals, but student-athletes often are the ones – particularly our national, conference and institution SAAC members – who come up with effective ways to implement these big-picture ideas at the local level,” Racy said.
“It never ceases to amaze me how their ideas on supporting Make-A-Wish or improving game environments keep raising the bar. I hope the fans at these Officials Appreciation Nights do indeed appreciate the game officials, but I also hope they appreciate the student-athletes who took it upon themselves to stage this type of positive outreach.”