All across the nation, there’s a shortage of referees – and the members of the Southern Wisconsin Officials Association (SWOA) are feeling the pain.
"It’s hard to find young officials who want to work," said Dave Jameson, SWOA’s clinic coordinator. "Crews in this area are always, you know, somebody can’t make it and we struggle to find someone to fill in. And 15 years ago, they were all over the place."
Jameson estimates there’s about 70-75 refs to officiate varsity through youth football this fall.
The National Association of Sports Officials says more than 70% of refs quit the job within the first few years. Jameson says the 2-3 year mark is typically when most hang up their whistles.
"That 2-3 year mark is hard," said Jameson. "They go through the aches and pains of it so to speak and if they hang in there, they’ll probably be a darn good official."
According to the national survey, the top reason for the drop-off in officials is abuse they feel from parents. There’s viral videos popping up all across the nation, showing angry parents yelling at officials.
"You’re out there and people are hooting and hollering at you," said Jameson. "But that’s being an official in any sport. That’s something you got to be able to take and if you can, you’ve got 90% of the battle won."
"You get those parents sometimes and they’re just non-stop," said Josh Cash, who has been officiating for about 10 years. Cash occasionally refs alongside his high-school aged son. He says that luckily, his teenager has figured out how to deal with the verbal abuse.
"He’ll be like, ‘Dad, I have this idiot parent yelling at me, and I just ignore them’," said Cash. "I said, ‘good idea’. He doesn’t take no gruff."
"Some of these kids will never play football after they graduate high school and it’s something they love," said Jameson. "Let them play it."
"I think people ought to know that we work hard and we try hard," said SWOA President Homer Holmquist. "And that’s all we can really do."
Of the officials we talked to, they said they thought the time commitment was also a big reason why some might quit. But whatever the reason, the problem is still there. Fewer officials creates more problems.
"Now it’s trickled down to the lower levels where they have to change game times or days or whatever," said Holmquist. "And then you run into the thing, ‘are you qualified?’ If you have a second-year official doing a varsity game, whatever his learning curve is is in question."
The SWOA says they’re always going out to schools, trying to recruit new referees. Officials say it’s a chance to meet new people and continue to be involved in youth sports. If you’re interested in becoming a referee, click here.