Referee shortage impacts high school sports

High School Preps

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — High schools in West Michigan are being forced to reschedule football games due to a shortage in referees.

Kalamazoo United, which is a football team made of up students from Hackett Catholic Prep and Kalamazoo Christian, were set to play against students from Watervliet. Their game has been rescheduled to Thursday due to the shortage of officials.

“It’s been tricky. There’s definitely been a new challenge every week,” said Chris Abid, who is the athletic director at Hackett Catholic Prep. “We knew at the beginning of this year, official shortages were going to be an issue, between the age of officials putting them in the at-risk group or possible quarantine with the pandemic going on.”

Abid says multiple schools are being impacted by the shortage.

“There were seven other games that our official assigner didn’t have officials for Friday night, including Hartford and South Haven who have also had to move games around,” said Abid.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association says they experience shortages every year.

“In any given year, you have 10,000, roughly, officials in the state of Michigan and you have to replace 15% of them every year for whatever reason. However, they get out, whether it’s life events or they age out or whatever, that’s an uphill battle every year, so we’re always in recruitment of officials,” said John Johnson with MHSAA.

Johnson says over the years, persistent shortages and financial concerns have forced schools to use five-man referee teams rather than the preferred seven man referee teams, which provides maximum coverage of the field. Johnson says seven-man teams are now mostly reserved for the last two weeks of state tournaments. 

“The pandemic has just introduced a dynamic that has officials, particularly if they’re older, looking at that and thinking right now, it’s not worth the risks. So, some have taken pause,” said Johnson. 

Johnson says both schools and MHSAA are actively recruiting high school students and young people to become referees. He says some upperclassman at high schools are eligible. Johnson says his hope is as people begin officiating early on, schools can hang on to them for a longer period of time.

Johnsons says although this year has been hectic, they’re looking forward to the future.

“This will pass. We will find that the numbers will be sufficient to cover the games that we need to cover. We hope that people will, through shaking the bushes, get out there and put on the stripes,” said Johnson.

Anyone interested in becoming an official can find information on the MSHAA website. 

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