Skip to Content

Referee shortage continues: “We’re in crisis mode now”

The shortage of referees in Wisconsin continues to be a problem. According to the WIAA, there were 520 fewer licensed athletic officials for the 2017-2018 school year than there were for the year prior. Since 2003, the number has dropped by more than 1300 licensed officials.

“There’s no new officials getting into the game,” said School District of Janesville athletic assistant Chris Nicholson, who schedules officials for games. “And the aging population – this year alone 5 of my officials that I used heavily retired or quit officiating. You know, 5 people, that’s a lot.”

According to the National Association of Sports Officials, 80% of new officials who who join up quit after two years. 75% say the main reason they quit is because of poor treatment from parents, fans, coaches and players. In Wisconsin, it’s becoming tougher to fill freshman and junior varsity games because many officials are still at their full-time jobs when those games begin. And many new officials get thrown into the fire.

“The [new officials] are ready for freshman, sophomore kind of football but what’s happening now is those guys are going out there and they’re getting pulled right to a varsity crew because there’s nobody left,” said Dave Jameson, clinic coordinator for the Southern Wisconsin Officials Association.

This referee shortage was felt hard in Janesville earlier this month when a Janesville Bluebirds hockey game had to be cancelled because a replacement official could not be found in time. If this problem doesn’t get better any soon then more game cancellations could be on the way.

“We’re in a crisis mode now,” said Nicholson. “It’s to the point where we are looking at rescheduling games to different days to get officials. We haven’t had a lot of that at the varsity and junior varsity level but it’s in the near future – 1 or 2 years.”

“I think what will happen is you’re going to end up with them playing J.V. and freshman stuff on a different night,” said Jameson. “Or you may not have freshman sports because there’s just not going to be enough officials to cover the games.”

“I’ve gone to some practices some times and talked to the players and say, ‘hey just think about [signing up]’,” said Kent Holmquist, President of the Southern Wisconsin Officials Association. “Maybe that’s a way for them to stay involved [in athletics after high school].”

If you’d like to know how to become a WIAA official, click here. To help combat the shortage of officials, The Big Picture Basketball Clinic is offering a program to train officials and teach parents more about the game. The next clinic will be on Sunday, February 17th, at Cambridge High School. You can find more information about the clinic by e-mailing Doug Stampfli at

Amy Gill

Sports Anchor/Reporter, 27 News.

Skip to content