Randy Merian

Veteran - North Bay Officials Association referee Randy Merian (right) is part of a core of dedicated men and women officiating youth sports in Sonoma County. Photo provided   

Officials could suffer financially if games are canceled 

In the midst of uncertainty surrounding the upcoming fall season are the unsung heroes of youth sports, the referees are caught in limbo. 

At last count, there were some 55 men and women in the North Bay Officials Association (NBOA), an alarmingly low number that has been on a steady decline for the past decade due to several factors. Throw in a pandemic, which has forced the cancellation of all organized sports in the North Bay since mid March, and that number could go even lower. 

According to a report from the National Association of Sports Officials, the pool of licensed high school officials has declined some 12% in the last five years. The average age, which is 56 years old for NBOA referees, is also a cause for concern. 

In 2019, NBOA Membership Chairman and veteran referee Randy Merian led a drive to recruit young officials, an effort that attracted few new prospects. Among the relative lack of interest may lie in a perceived climate of growing hostility from spectators at the youth level. 

In a poll of more than 17,000 sanctioned high school referees across multiple sports, the vast majority of officials cited the top reason for the decline was the presence of fan abuse. The study also divulged that 57% of high school referees believe that sportsmanship is getting worse. 

This year members of the NBOA have not only weathered life without sports, but deep financial losses as well.

Like Merian, most local officials can work as many games as they’d like and during basketball season, it’s not uncommon for referees to officiate at least one or two games per day, seven days a week.  

“Last year I worked a total of 657 games in both youth and high school sports, including football and basketball,” Merian said. “I’m lucky I have another job but there are many of us that depend solely on the income from officiating games.” 

High school referees can make an average of about $135 per day working JV and varsity football and basketball games. This year, the NBOA has not been able to recruit any new officials due to the pandemic. 

With youth football at the Pop Warner level all but cancelled for the fall season, high school athletes, coaches and officials will learn their fate later this month.   

“We’ll find out on July 20 whether or not we’ll have a fall season,” Merian noted. “We’re trying to remain optimistic, but we’re also realistic.” 

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