Unruly and overbearing adults are considered the biggest challenge facing high school sports today.

While national surveys suggest parents' actions are already taking a big bite out of the pool of qualified officials and coaches who are willing to get involved with interscholastic athletics, a New Jersey-only survey that's in the works aims to get the opinions of high-school athletes on the way adults behave at sporting events.

"It's pretty reasonable to assume some coaches may not be returning to the high school coaching realm because of parents," said Colleen Maguire, director of finance for the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.

Maguire said parents take out their frustrations either off the field or right from the sidelines, criticizing "all aspects of (coaches') decisions."

The NJSIAA, meanwhile, has seen an uptick in communication from parents who are interested in reporting coaches for behavior they consider harassment or bullying, under the state's strictest-in-the-nation anti-bullying law.

Steve Farsiou, an attorney in Flemington who has represented over a dozen coaches fighting for their jobs due to parents' complaints, said he hasn't handled one case that truly involved an instance of harassment, intimidation or bullying.

"I don't know in New Jersey how anybody right now would want to continue or be a high school coach, based on how this law's been manipulated," said Farsiou, a volunteer baseball coach at North Hunterdon High School.

The National Federation of High School Associations recently released a video aimed at helping student-athletes' parents "cope with the roller coaster of emotions that they will feel" in the stands.

In a note to state associations, NFHS said inappropriate adult behavior at high school athletic events has reached "epidemic proportion."

The federation cited a recent national survey in which 62.3% of high school athletic directors said "dealing with aggressive parents and adult fans" was the worst part of the job.

Almost 80% of officials quit after the first two years on the job, NFHS said. Unruly parents are cited as the reason why.

"That's a concern longer term for all athletics," said Maguire with NJSIAA.

Maguire in 2018 created a student-athlete advisory council to get a better handle on the issues and concerns facing New Jersey's student athletes. Through this, a survey is being created for all student-athletes in the state to share their opinions on adult and parent behavior at sporting events, including treatment of coaches and officials.

The council's efforts have also led to the creation of an "Officials Rule" campaign in the Garden State — an officials appreciation week will occur each season; team captains are encouraged to acknowledge officials in some way during these weeks, the first of which arrives on October 14.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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