We're all aware of the major threats facing high school sports. From overbearing parents to single-sport specialization to budget cuts in numerous states to, in football, the fear of head injuries, high school sports will have to fight and change for their survival.
But there's also another crisis looming, one that threatens a fundamental necessity of every high school sport and one that no high school coach or administrator can directly control: referees.
LoHud.com outlines the number of issues that are driving veteran referees away across the board in high school sports, underscored by this startling statistic: according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, only 20 percent of referees return for their third year on the job.
"The issue is twofold," the organization says. "First, we must find ways to recruit more men and women to become involved in officiating high school sports. Second, we have to address issues that are causing these individuals to discontinue their service as contest officials."
The issues, according to the NFSHA and outlined by LoHud:
- officials feel they're underpaid
- lots of officials are nearing retirement age, which many say is "a harbinger of a looming disaster"
- at the same time, younger people that would usually be drawn to officiating are gravitating toward other things
- a boom in travel and club teams are pulling qualified officials away from high school games
- and finally, the "culture of abuse" officials have to endure just do to the job
There's only so much control a single high school football coach has over those issues. You can't stop older officials from retiring, and you can't force young people to replace them. "We're hurting," octogenarian referee Simon Kaufman told LoHud. "A lot of us old folks are getting out, or will be soon, and we're not getting enough young people in. If this continues, it'll be a big problem."
You can't stop veteran refs from working travel team games, and a coach has a limited influence in how much officials are paid.
But there is one issue every single head coach can do to make officials' lives easier: end that "culture of abuse" raining down upon them. Make it clear to your assistants, your players and, most importantly, your players' parents that it's your job to deal with the officials, and then be respectful and professional in your communication with them. The head coach sets the culture for the entire organization, and going full Bobby Knight on an official signals a unspoken permission to everyone else wearing your colors that the refs are fair game to be treated as verbal punching bags.
Says Barry Mano, founder and president of the National Association of Sports Officials, "We have got to control the way sports officials are treated and respected. We have to turn the train around and they have to be fully valued and respected. We’ve got to deliver psychic income."