Imagine a situation where kids spend months training for the opening Friday night of the football season, but a lack of referees forces the cancellation of the game.
That is a growing concern in today’s climate of youth sports, where a sharp decline of sanctioned officials threatens the very survival of leagues at every level.
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 for a number of reasons, including an improved economy where fewer people depend on income from officiating games, an aging official’s pool and a nationwide increase in verbal and physical abuse from fans.
In a recent survey of more than 17,000 sanctioned high school referees across multiple sports, the vast majority of officials cited the main reason for the decline was the presence of fan abuse. The study also divulged that 57 percent of high school referees believe that sportsmanship is getting worse.
“Nobody wants to take abuse and sometimes you have to have thick skin and a sense of humor,” veteran football referee and NBOA Membership Chairman Randy Merian said. “But it can be a lot of fun working with a great group of people that love sports as much as the players. Where else can you get a better view and be a part of the game?”
Calling all North Bay officials
The declining number of sanctioned high school officials has been especially acute in Sonoma and Lake Counties, where the average age of officials is about 55. The lack of available referees has prompted the North Bay Officials Association (NBOA) to launch an aggressive membership drive.
“We have 55 veteran referees coming back this year and ten years ago we had 75-80,” Merian reported. “If we don’t have enough officials, we won’t have games.”
Although all age groups are encouraged to apply, the target demographic for prospective officials are millennials, where a young official can rise through the ranks quickly. Officials can make an average of about $135 per day working JV and varsity football and basketball games. During basketball season, a referee can work seven days a week if they’d like.
“We’re trying to attract younger and more athletic officials,” Merian noted. “We offer free training that includes teaching you how to read a rule book, three or four classes and plenty of on the field training. We want to help young adults get into officiating any way we can.”
Anyone interested in becoming a referee with the North Bay Officials Association is encouraged to contact Randy Merian at 707-239-0576 or visit the NBOA website registration page: https://ssl.sonic.net/gfried/nboo_fb_officials/applications/new_member_application.php.