Introduction by Brendan Szulik, Silbo’s CEO, at the inaugural Triangle Sportsmanship Conference hosted by Silbo. Focused on tackling the challenges surrounding sportsmanship in youth sports, the event took place on October 9th, at the PNC Arena in Raleigh and was presented by the Carolina Hurricanes.
“Like you, I have a passion for sports. I was never much of an athlete myself, but I love officiating — I officiate basketball, baseball, softball, and lacrosse — and I love watching sports. Hurricanes hockey is akin to religion in my family, and I stayed up far too late last night watching the game.
I also have a passion for the positive values they teach our local, national, and global communities: values like teamwork, meritocracy, perseverance, and civil discourse. I want to emphasize ‘civil discourse’ because, in today’s society, I find nothing more crucial than our ability to respect our fellow competitors, citizens, and human beings.
If we are to weave a strong, united, and vibrant flag, every thread must be representative of the greater whole. The people we are on the field or court or ice must be representative of the good people we are in our homes, offices, and spirits.
But somewhere along the way, a breakdown has occurred. As the flawed, beautiful creatures we are, we sometimes fail to translate our inner goodness into our external lives. The sportsmanship epidemic is emblematic of such a struggle.
Here we’ve fallen into a vicious cycle: when sportsmanship is not reinforced on the field, our athletes do not learn its value; without learning its value, these athletes will only demonstrate poor sportsmanship themselves.
This cycle will only worsen without our intervention. Indeed, it has placed a chokehold on the growth of amateur sports. Amateur sports may soon face a precipitous decline. I say that with no exaggeration or hyperbole.
As John Engh, who will speak in just a few minutes, will attest, 70% of young men and women are leaving organized athletics by age 13. Among the reasons is the harassment and pressure these young athletes endure.
Sports officials are subject to relentless abuse, both verbal and physical, and are quitting he avocation at a rate of 10% year over year. 80% of officials quit within 3 years. That’s a turnover rate worse than prison guards. I, for one, was physically assaulted by a parent who charged me from the stands while I refereed an inconsequential 14-year-old basketball game. And as you can see I’m not a small guy. I was lucky to escape unscathed. Two weeks ago, a football official was hospitalized after a high school player headbutted him, helmet and all. If officials continue to quit, fewer games will be played. Organized sports will wither because, as we like to say, ‘Without officials, it’s just recess.’
Men and women, boys and girls, are suffering. Sports are suffering. We are all sick and tired of bad sportsmanship ruining that which should be fun. Without an answer to this sportsmanship crisis, our kids or grandkids will not be able to enjoy the same experiences and learn the same values as you and I.
At the end of the day, poor sportsmanship HURTS. OUR. KIDS. The sports community addresses background checks and baseball bat safety and this and that, but we have failed to address the insidious issue of sportsmanship. We, as a group, have allowed this to happen. Starting today, we must acknowledge and reverse the crisis we face.
Silbo, along with the Carolina Hurricanes, founded this event to not only establish the first dialogue about sportsmanship in our Triangle community, but also ideate possible solutions to the sportsmanship crisis. At Silbo, we believe that by advocating for sports officials, we can in turn improve the experiences of everyone involved in youth sports: parents, coaches, athletes, and all. The speakers and panelists here today will offer similar perspectives as league administrators, educators, coaches, and officials.
Before we begin, I’d first like to thank my incredible team at Silbo. They work tirelessly to advocate for officials and provide them greater simplicity, convenience, and opportunity. In particular, I’d like to thank Jay Wisse for leading the charge on today’s event and Rachel Repp for her hard work.
I’d also like to thank the entire Carolina Hurricanes organization for their gracious support. I attended the first Hurricanes game at this arena 20 years ago and have been a die-hard fan ever since. It really is a personal and professional honor to be here today. From their junior teams to the READvolution initative, the Hurricanes are, if I may paraphrase Coach Brind’amour, the grit and grind of our amateur sports and youth development communities.
Our first speaker today is John Engh, Executive Director of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS). Like his father, Fred, John is continuing to expand NAYS by ‘educating, equipping, and empowering youth sports leaders, volunteers, and parents so all children can enjoy the lifelong benefits of sports‘. NAYS has partnered with more than 3,000 community-based organizations and having trained over 4 million coaches, parents, officials, and administrators.
Thank you again for your attendance, and I hope you enjoy the inaugural Triangle Sportsmanship Conference.”