Referee shortages continue to hamper K-12 sports

Verbally abusive parents loom large in driving high school sports officials off fields and disrupting athletic schedules
By: | September 18, 2019 Darrin Klimek

With the fall K-12 sports season in full swing, the lack of trained officials in multiple sports, particularly football, is resulting in cancelled contests and the elimination of teams. Participation in interscholastic sports has increased but the number of referees has not kept pace, and in fact, has been dropping in many places.

From 2007 to 2017, the Iowa High School Athletic Association saw a 12 percent decrease in the total number of officials across seven sports, according to The Gazette. Overall, the number of registered officials has dropped from 1,557 in 2013 to 1,357 this season. Officials in Davenport have been moving football games to Saturday and having officials cover both varsity and junior varsity games, according to WQAD 8

In Illinois, the total number of referees has dropped by about 2,000 over the last nine years, according to Illinois High School Association. Many districts also have been forced to move football games from the traditional Friday nights to Saturdays in order to avoid cancellations, News Channel ABC 20 reports

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A recent football game between Lutheran and Shortridge high schools in Indianapolis, Indiana, was cancelled and declared a “no-contest” when three officials didn’t show up for the game, The Indianapolis Star reports. “In 31 years, I’ve never had this,” Lutheran coach Dave Pasch said.

In New Jersey, verbally abusive parents have been discouraging aspiring referees, Carmine Picardo, a former athletic director who assigns officials for football games in the North Jersey Super Football Conference and North Jersey Interscholastic Conference, told The number of candidates attending training classes for the northern chapter of the New Jersey Football Officials has dropped about 50 percent since the start of the decade, to under 20 per class, said Picardo.  

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The verbal abuse officials receive from parents, spectators, and sometimes coaches and administrators tops the list of reasons why referees quit, Scott Smith, director of the master’s in athletic administration program at Ohio University, recently told DA.“Officials have always been vulnerable to abuse from the sidelines, but it’s much worse today than it’s ever been,” Smith said.

Barry Mano, president of the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO) told DA that low pay and long hours were also contributing to the issue. 

Ultimately, without trained referees, more school districts will be forced to eliminate sports teams and athletic contests.

“The men and women who officiate are the very basis for high school sports,” Mano said. “Without us, it’s just recess. The rules are just ink on paper.”


Resource: National Association of Sports Officials (NASO)