As high school sports return, game officials remain lower

High School Preps

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Winter high school sports teams are finally back in competition this week. But referee’s aren’t necessarily darting back to gyms. 

In a typical year, between 265 to 300 referees will sign up with the West Michigan Officials Association to officiate basketball games. About a quarter have elected to sit out this season. 

“We’re still down a lot of officials. To have 83 opt out is really going to put a strain on making sure all the games are covered this season,” said Brad Burnet of the West Michigan Officials Association. 

He says COVID-19 concerns and the late start to the season are the main factors in declining participation. 

“Our average age of officials is 50 to 55 years of age,” Burnet said. “We’re having a lot of officials working three games a night.” 

Second-year referee Mitchell Gabriele has decided to suit up. As former high school athlete, he feels it’s his duty help current student-athletes. 

“I have the ability, so I have the responsibility,” Gabriele said. “Happy to help out.”  

This season is different than any other with restrictions on the number of people allowed inside gyms, players spaced out on the bench and the use of masks for players and referees, among the changes. 

“Having a whistle in the mouth, saying a player name or color, it took a bit of adjusting,” Gabriele said. 

A shortage in referees means those participating will have a busy schedule. Gabriele will call eight games this week. He expects to be working five to six nights throughout the regular season. 

While he officiates out of love for the game, he says the pay isn’t bad for a side gig. 

“Freshman game is $50, junior varsity game is $55 and a varsity game is $75,” Gabriele said of the pay rate.  

The West Michigan Officials Association invites anyone with an interest in becoming an official to check out their website for more information.  

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