High school sports are back in full swing, but a lack of qualified referees could spell trouble.
“We are short officials in every sport,” said Oak Harbor Athletic Director Jerrod Fleury said.
He is the assignor for basketball officials for schools in Island, Skagit and Whatcom counties so he knows firsthand the difficulty in finds refs. He said sports like football, volleyball, wrestling, baseball, softball and basketball are all facing shortages.
“I am concerned about the future of athletics as we’re getting ready for this year,” Fleury said. “I’m not sure we’re going to be able to cover all of the games.”
Those interested in becoming an official should go to washingtonofficials.com to get started. The Washington Officials Association website has a form for aspiring adjudicators to enter in what town they live in and if they’re interested in baseball, basketball, football, gymnastics, soccer, softball, volleyball or wrestling.
Fleury said officials are paid per game and receive travel reimbursement. Refs judging “lower-level” games like “C team” or junior varsity teams earn $30 per game, but those overseeing varsity games would earn $42 per game, Fleury said. Officials can expect to spend two to four hours at one game. Most people work a couple of nights per week, he added.
Fleury estimated that the average age of officials is in the mid-50s. Some people stepped away from refereeing during the pandemic for fear of their own safety, the changing regulations, or, most recently, because they are not vaccinated. All staff and volunteers on school campuses are required to be vaccinated by Oct. 18 per Gov. Jay Inslee’s order.
Perhaps the biggest reason why refs put down their whistles or don’t pick them up in the first place is because of the behavior of coaches and parents.
“Prior to COVID, the biggest reason for the shortage was, according to surveys, the abuse from parents and coaches,” Fleury said.
Last season, assignors worked with schools to move games to nights when refs were available. At one point, schools were asked to find their own volunteer umpires for C team games.
“And that’s really difficult because that’s asking a mom and a dad to come out of the stand and officiate a game. They’re not going to know the rules,” he said.
There is some training offered to new officials and more resources are available to people who want to move further up in the organization, he added.
Although it can be a thankless job, Fleury said it’s a good way to stay connected with the sport, exercise and give back to the community.
“You don’t get paid a ton,” he said, “but I think people do it because they love the game and want to give back.”