It's a rite of spring,  winter or fall, youth sports leagues that play everything from soccer to baseball, football to lacrosse. But besides growing youth leagues, we're seeing an escalation of verbal and even physical abuse towards officials.

The Washington Post and other sources report that sports leagues across the country are often left short handed, because they can't find enough officials.

According to dozens of reports from across the country, officials are being verbally abused, on the sidelines, and even confronted in the parking lot after contests. The Post says the National Federation of State High School Associations reports on average only 2 out of every ten officials return for a third year of working games. After about two years, most quit.

This shortage is not expected to improve anytime soon, leaving some leagues with the prospect of having to cancel games. A study done in Virginia for high school soccer found the number of red cards (fouls) issued for profanity and abusive language from coaches, fans and even players has doubled the last few years.

Some authorities say it's because many teams are placing too much emphasis on winning, being  successful, and getting their players 'exposed' to scouts at the next level--whether it's high school to college, or even club to high school.

In the Tri-Cities, there hasn't been a shortage of officials for most youth sports. Kennewick National and Kennewick American Youth baseball heavily utilize teenagers as umpires in training. Many of them will work several games paired with an adult, who runs 'interference' for them until they get more adjusted and comfortable.

In Tri-City Youth football leagues, such as the Kennewick Grid Kids, all of the officials are area high school players from Kamiakin, Kennewick and Southridge.  A top Grid Kid source says there's no shortage of candidates, because these teenage kids "want a paycheck."

They're also instructed carefully on how to deal with irate parents and coaches, even players. Plus there's plenty of league officials and other coaches on the board who are present during all the games. If people step too far out of line, they are booted, and the referees kept from any harm.

However this source told us years ago the league did have adult officials, but they left because they tired of the verbal abuse from fans and parents. Kennewick Grid Kids has been working with many of them trying to lure the back into the fold, but no success yet.

Many of the area h.s. football officials say there are catcalls and boos during Mid Columbia Conference and other games, but nothing they can't deal with. But they'd rather officiate h.s. than 'put up' with abusive parents in youth football.

The bottom line is, it starts with parents and coaches. They need to realize, in youth sports especially, that the Super Bowl or World Series isn't riding on whether little Jimmy was rung up on a suspect pitch that might have been low and outside.

It's...just...a...game. The purpose of youth sports is to have fun, and learn the games, and get better to maybe they can play in high school or beyond.