It’s affecting communities in our area: a shortage of referees. FOX 5 first reported on this in the summer, and now that winter sports are underway, it checked with some organizations.
Some organizations say winter sports have not been affected as much by the shortage, as fewer sports are generally played and fewer officials are needed.
However, the National Association of Sports Officials said that while the situation had stabilized, they still considered it a “crisis” mode, estimating a 25 per cent shortfall of what is needed across the country.
A key reason why it’s happening: Many older officials haven’t returned since the pandemic began, and the ONS’ Barry Mano says it’s an “aging” industry. Young people are not yet at a high enough level to make up for the gap in retirement.
One last key point, many refereeing organizations say parents make the job difficult.
FOX 5 spoke with Jeff Sullivan, director of athletic affairs for Montgomery County Public Schools. The reality, he said, is that the availability of referees is becoming a more important factor when scheduling games.
“It’s really spreading to a lot of our sport now, and that’s something we’ve got to recognize, and of course our schedule. How we schedule games, when we schedule games, provide that kind of relaxation and flexibility for our officials Sexual associations as much as possible,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan added that encouraging sportsmanship in all interscholastic sports has become a priority, primarily to create a good working environment for officials.
On Friday, the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association released a report saying the current shortage of referees is unsustainable, adding that more needs to be done to encourage sportsmanship and create a better work environment for officials.
Sullivan also said that given the current state of refereeing numbers, they will have to consider moving games that would normally be played after school to a later time, or playing football on a Thursday or Saturday.
“If we had an unlimited number of officers, we could arrange whatever we wanted. What was convenient, but it was one of the things we had to recognize. So we worked with our commissioners and allocators, looking at the big picture, said Sullivan.
The 25 percent shortfall is in line with Rossie Alston Jr. and the Northern Virginia Football Officials Association.
Alston Jr. told FOX 5 that he now has about 170 officers and could put 200 to work, but hopes to have 230.
“It’s been a challenge over the last few years because, as you can imagine, our numbers are going down for a number of reasons, but we’re working on it,” Alston Jr. said.
Alston Jr. said the organization is working with schools to staff the game as fully as possible, but in the last year, they dropped some officials from some staffs to make it work. Some of the conversations with schools include games beyond Friday. At this point, some schools are more open about it than others, Alston Jr. said.
“We understand the need for schools to meet their financial obligations. But the contract is very clear. They say the timing and location of these games should be agreed jointly by the alma mater, the visiting school, and the association. So we need to work harder to make sure schools understand us We are doing our best to fulfill our contract, but they need to work with us to help us achieve our goals and achieve theirs,” Alston Jr. said.
Alston Jr. said recruitment was underway to attract new officers, especially women and young people.
FOX 5 also reached out to the DC State Athletic Association.
“There is still a shortage across the country, but our games are secured. There just isn’t a surplus of officials that previously existed,” spokesman Josh Barr said in a statement.