FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A video of a spectator and referee fighting at a basketball game at SportONE Parkview Fieldhouse in Fort Wayne, Indiana on Saturday has gone viral across social media.
In the video, you can see the spectator approach the referee. The video then jumps to the two physically fighting.
A witness told Nexstar affiliate WANE 15 that the parent in the video was complaining about foul calls. After speaking to the referee, he was then asked to leave the game.
As the official attempted to get help in removing the parent, the man got in his face and grabbed the referee, according to the witness.
The witness then said the man was ultimately escorted out of the game and did not return. The witness claimed they showed officers the video of the incident.
The Fort Wayne Police Department’s activity log shows no record of being called to the Parkview SportONE Fieldhouse on Saturday. Public Information Officer Sgt. Jeremy Webb confirmed to WANE 15 on Monday that there was no record of FWPD responding to the incident.
Justin Shippy, the secretary and treasurer for the Northeastern Indiana Athletic Officials Association, told WANE 15 that the official in the video is part of their organization.
“I was shocked because you wouldn’t think that you would happen to see something like that here in Fort Wayne, Indiana,” Shippy said.
He added that the official has been great for their association and has worked a number of games. Shippy wouldn’t have expected to see that official involved in something like this.
“Not at all. I would not see him [getting involved], that’s very unlike him,” he explained.
The game was part of a Gym Rats Basketball tournament between Team Robinson 2027-PINK and Bluewater Hurricanes from Michigan. The players are in eighth grade.
“We’re talking eighth-grade basketball here. We’re not talking about the national championship that we watched on CBS here a few months ago,” he added.
Shippy said it’s his understanding that the parent seen throwing punches at the official is from the Bluewater Hurricanes team.
In the grand scheme of things, Shippy said this incident is part of a larger problem across the country.
“The way things have been nowadays with fans, behavior, and sportsmanship, it’s not surprising,” Shippy explained. “I’ve been doing this for 26 years, and it’s just, I want to say within the last six to eight years it has, traditionally, become worse, and it’s hard for us as veterans to recruit newer officials because of instances that you happened to see there this past weekend. A lot of the officials don’t want to get involved, which I don’t blame them.”
He admitted that there’s more at stake in today’s games. Kids are quicker and stronger. The competition is better. Teams and players are fighting for spots. But why verbal attacks on referees have turned physical or when that shift happened, is something Shippy said he doesn’t have the answer to.
He just knows that it’s causing issues with recruitment and even being able to cover every game.
“Our numbers are dwindling and episodes like we saw this past weekend don’t help,” he said.
So, what’s the solution? Should officials boycott games to send a message? Shippy said he doesn’t know if that idea would work or not, but it isn’t something he’s interested in.
“We do this for the student-athletes and I hate to see games get cancelled because we don’t have enough officials to get the games done,” Shippy said.
“My kind of view on the whole thing, especially if officials are being physically attacked, we’re going to have to have a law that at least somewhat protects officials.”
Shippy explained that the IHSAA is backing officials on getting some sort of law passed to protect officials from physical attacks, but they can’t seem to get something pushed through the legislature.
In the meantime, he hopes parents and fans start to understand the officials’ importance to the games and their role in them.
“I’ll tell you what, we’re not perfect,” he said. “We’re human out there. So, you’re not going to agree with every call that I make or my partner makes. Just like the kids don’t make every free throw or layup. We’re not perfect. We’re going to miss stuff.”
WANE 15 reached out to Parkview Health on Monday and was told they’re working on sending out a statement.