What’s the protocol when a fan throws something on the court or field? How do you react on a personal level, and what should you do in your role as an official in charge of the game?

You may have never seen a fan throw debris at one of your games. But it happens. When it does, you must be prepared.

When a situation like that one arises in one of your games, are you ready? We talk about game management-related issues in pregame discussions and presume we’re ready for anything. Ironically, that was not true in that case. I doubt anyone officiating football, soccer, basketball or any other sports has discussed fans throwing explosives (or anything else, for that matter) onto the playing surface in their pregame.

Nope. You act on instinct. You must get with game management quickly and put the onus on them handling the situation. It is not your role as the referee or umpire to go into the stands at a high school, middle school or college contest to single out someone who is causing a problem on the field.

Your responsibility is to take quick, decisive action and manage the situation as a professional, ensuring site management understands the onus is on them (with potential penalties) if the activity doesn’t cease. Then enforce the rules. If it happens again, call a technical foul on the basketball coach, penalize the football coach, restrict or eject the coach in baseball or softball. Your authority rests on taking appropriate enforcement actions.

When we put on our uniforms, we are not out to win popularity contests. We’re on the court and field to ensure the rules are equitably enforced. Sometimes that means making uncomfortable decisions. No one wants to have to go to a coach and tell him or her to get on the microphone to communicate with fans that they’re being jerks and compromising game safety.

But sometimes it has to be done. Measure your words. Be prepared. Get it done.

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