The 13-year-old soccer players in Cincinnati had been pulling at their opponents’ jerseys all game. Rhiana Garcia raised her flag again and again, signaling fouls. But a coach took issue with her officiating that October night in 2020.

The insults he directed at Rhiana, who was 14 at the time, intensified throughout the match; she said that he had accused her of being colorblind and had shouted expletives and a racial slur at her. Before the final whistle blew, the coach had been kicked off the field. And Rhiana, holding back tears, texted her boss, "I don’t know if I can do this anymore.”

Such unruly behavior is the driving force, referees say, behind a nationwide shortage of youth sports officials.