Shortage of High School Referees And Umpires Is Looming

Publish Notes: 

The Compass Claremont, NH Aug. 31, 2011

Shortage of High School Referees And Umpires Is Looming
Shortage of High School Referees And Umpires Is Looming

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt.-As another high school sports season rolls around, there seems to be a growing concern over the availability of game officials. They often go without fanfare or praise, and are usually thrust in the spotlight only after making a questionable call(remember, officials are human too), but let's not forget that umpires and referees are vital to all of our games. And there is a growing concern over a potential shortage of high school game officials throughout Vermont.

Photos by Joe Milliken. Umpire Richard Long takes a foul ball off the leg at a game in Chester this spring. While Bruce Schmidt and his father, Stewart, have over 60 years combined officiating experience on the soccer field.
Having covered local sports in Southern Vermont and New Hampshire since 2004, this sports writer has certainly started to notice not only the rising average ages of current officials, but also the fewer number of younger people officiating games. From year to year, I see many of the same "experienced" officials at games, while not too many "fresh faces" appear to be obtaining that valuable game experience.

Currently, there seems to be many more officials in their 40's, 50's, 60's and even their 70's, then there are officials under the age of 40, which could become an alarming situation as the decade moves forward. Richard Long is a North Walpole, NH-native and has been calling games for many years.

Long has been officiating various varsity athletics since 1982 in both Vermont and New Hampshire. Since 1984, he has been a member of the IAABO Vermont Bd 105(International Association of Approved Basketball Officials) and past member of IAABO NH Bd 32 and NH Women's Basketball Official.

He has also since 1981, been a member, of the Southern Vermont Baseball Umpires Association and two time past President of the group. Long is also a of the Vermont High School Softball Umpires Association, and am President-elect of that group. He also referees middle school and junior varsity soccer.

"I have been an umpire and referee since I was a kid," Long said in a recent interview. "I volunteered to help umpire Little League games in Bellows Falls, when I was a 13-year-old Babe Ruth league player. I liked it so much that I kept going back time and time again until I was a 'regular'. Then I started refereeing biddy-boy basketball games and eventually junior high, freshman, junior varsity and varsity high school games after college in the late 70's."

Long, like many officials in previous decades, gave their time to the games not only because of their love of sports… it certainly wasn't for the money. "I may have gotten into it out of chance," Long said. "But also for a desire to stay in the game after my playing days and because I was brought up by my parents to believe that we need to give back to our community."

So why does there seem to be less and less young men and women becoming sports officials?

"I think you probably have to look at our society. We all seem to be living busier and busier lives," Long suggested. "Officiating takes a very strong commitment to the game, to learn the mechanics, know the rules, commit to your fellow officials, the teams and leagues you are associated with. It also takes a very big sacrifice from not only you, but also your family and your employer as well."

Another reason for the shortage of umpires and officials is simply the fact that there are more sports and leagues than ever before. Therefore, more sports means there are more parents that are coaching and more travelling commitments as a parent, which in turn, leaves less time for people to become umpires and referees.

"There was a time when most of the officials were teachers or folks who were self-employed, folks who got out of work by 3 p.m. and were willing to travel to
officiate. This is no longer the case," Long said. "Also, when it comes to your work, at one time you wouldn't hesitate to ask the boss to let you out of work early to go work a game. But with the economy the way it is today, you simply can't afford to ask for the time off because there are a lot of people that need jobs and few of us can afford to be unemployed."

Additionally, fewer people are willing to travel 45 minutes to an hour to go work a game, spend some three hours at the game then travel home… all for a $75 game fee. Never mind the simple fact that an official must have thicker skin than most as fans, parents, players and coaches for the most part are great… but not always.

Also, younger people in general, might feel a little intimidated about officiating a game. Ludlow resident Bruce Schmidt has refereed high school soccer for 11 years and college soccer for another eight, working in many local leagues and in college, the North Atlantic Conference and the ECAC.

"There are no doubt less younger people getting involved in refereeing for many sports," Schmidt said in a recent interview. "What I feel is being seen is more individuals getting involved between the years of 30-40 years old. This may be due to more confidence, watching games and realizing that they can do the job as well with more maturity. It is my opinion that we as referees need to mentor and encourage a potential young person to referee.

"It is normally not something you go and decide to do on your own. As with anything, it is important to have a cheerleader and mentor on your side helping you along. Refereeing has many cliques and there is no doubt that you won’t please everyone," Schmidt added. "Don’t do it for the money and be ready to be yelled at constantly.

While this is all true, there are also some real positive aspects of refereeing. Refereeing affords you the opportunity to work at something where each 'situation/game' is different and thus, you grow as you handle each situation. It affords you the opportunity to get better at your 'job'."

As a result of all these factors, we have fewer and fewer people getting into officiating, especially at the high school level. However, the hope here is that moving forward, more people will re-discover their love for sports and want to find a way to be involved in their favorite games, especially after they're playing days are over. In that regard, officiating is the perfect way to not only stay connected to sports, but to also get more physically fit and give back
to their community.

Always remember how important game officials are and to treat them with respect because after all, there could really be no games without them.