Parents on both sides of a 9-year-old boys’ soccer match in Lexington were criticizing the referee one crisp morning in February.
“Oh, come on!” yelled one parent at referee Horst Diachendt, 45, after he penalized a player for being offside.
The referee, with 10 years’ experience, swung around on his back foot, looked directly at the parent and raised a hand to his ear.
“Excuse me,” Diachendt said sharply. “It doesn’t matter when he passes.”
Diachendt is part of a growing number of S.C. referees who say some parents are taking their kids’ sporting events too seriously. Sideline heckling is hurting both student athletes and youth sports in general, the referees add.
A walk around soccer fields that day revealed several parents taking jabs at referees, as well as their own children.
“That was a terrible call!” yelled one dad at a referee.
“Cassie, you’re a wing! Do you know what a wing is?!” chided another dad.
Nearby, Diachendt was still feeling the heat after issuing a warning to a Spartanburg player, who had shoved two other kids. Multiple Spartanburg parents unleashed a tirade against him.
Again, Diachendt swung around on his back foot and looked directly at the parents.
“For me, Silent September goes until 2020,” Diachendt said, referring to a monthlong initiative last year that raised awareness about the dwindling number of referees and the expectations of sideline behavior.
“He did something wrong, in my opinion, and that’s the only one that matters.”
Growing up in Romania, Diachendt spent free time playing soccer with his friends. It was unorganized soccer in the neighborhood, but still plenty of fun, he said. He moved to Orangeburg in 2000 and started coaching a high school soccer team not longer after.
That’s when he gained a new level of respect for referees and what they go through, he said. He signed up to help referee soccer games in 2007.
Diachendt is also a math teacher at Spring Hill High School in Chapin, covering subjects ranging from Algebra I to Advanced Placement statistics.
Similar to his technique with children in the classroom, Diachendt immediately responds to misbehaving parents and curtly explains his decisions. Whether he’s in the classroom or on the soccer pitch, he says he makes it clear to all that he is the one in charge.
After the game, Diachendt said, parents need to understand their children are not playing for the World Cup. It’s supposed to be fun, and many times parental behavior is ruining that, he said.
“Stop trying to live your unfulfilled athletic fantasy through your child,” he said. “Let them be children. It’s just a game.”
Diachendt said Silent September was a great success, allowing him to referee the game without any stress. But more importantly, it gave kids the opportunity to play without their parents contradicting the coaches. Cheering is one thing, he said, but if parents want to coach their children, they should sign up.
Despite the environment of youth sports today, Diachendt has never considered throwing in the towel. He loves the game too much, he said.
“The one thing that makes me come back over and over is every now and then you have these parents who ... come to tell me, ‘Great game, ref.’ I always make it a point to turn around and thank them,” he said. “That means a lot. Especially when it’s a parent on the losing team.”
Cody Dulaney: 803-771-8313, @dulaneycd