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Beyond the Score: Adult behavior key culprit in Wisconsin referee shortage

Beyond the Score: Adult behavior key culprit in Wisconsin referee shortage
Posted at 5:54 PM, May 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-02 18:54:53-04

GREEN BAY — If you’ve ever been to a high school state tournament in Wisconsin, you’ve probably seen or heard the announcer on the loudspeaker or seen an advertisement on the need for officials.

There's a severe shortage across the state and there's a huge need for people to step up to call balls and strikes.

“Without officials, I've heard this said before – it’s just like a pickup game,” said WIAA assistant director Kate Peterson Abiad.

“If it wasn’t for us referees there wouldn’t be the high school sports,” said local referee and Fox Cities Officials Association vice president Jim Jones Jr.

The referees who do stick around, love doing it.

“Being around the kids because you think back to the days you played sports and the relationships you had with officials,” said Jamie Thern a local referee and the Fox Cities Officials Association president). “You’re actually doing community service even though you’re getting paid."

Just how dire is the need for referees:

“We’re seeing issues with the shortage of officials in pretty much every sport,” said Peterson Abiad.

“We’re probably just covering it,” Thern said. “There’s a lot of officials that are in their 60’s 70’s so they’re retiring because they’re watching their grandkids. I'm 50 and I'm one of the younger guys officiating.”

The lack of referees forces quite a few of them to pick up more than one game a day.

“We don’t have JV officials or freshman officials, so they’re asking us to stay after our game and do another game because if we don’t those kids don’t get to play that are on the other teams,” said Thern.

“They’re being asked to do more,” Peterson Abiad said. “I think will make for an earlier exit or more injuries because you can only sustain that for a short period of time.”

Why is there a shortage? Most of it stems from parental and or fan behavior…

“The National Association of Sports Officials – they’ve done a comprehensive survey where they surveyed thousands and thousands of officials across the country and what they report as being the number one issue is adult behavior,” Peterson Abiad said.

They are dealing with parents or fans like this:

“I called traveling and I'm pretty sure it was that kid's dad, he came walking right at me on the court dropping “F” bombs,” said Jones Jr. “I chuckled at the guy when (the school) walked him out the door. You just embarrassed your school. You embarrassed your kid.”

According to the Fox Cities Officials Association they believe it's because parents are investing more money into youth sports than ever before.

“Things are just getting out of control,” Thern said. “There’s a lot of specialized training now and parents are expecting more from their kids because of the money they’re putting into it and they want their kids to get a magical scholarship, which only certain kids get.”

They say it’s not just because of the money parents have invested, it’s also a lack of understanding.

“You’re trying to look between 10 kids that are bigger, faster, stronger than we are,” Jones Jr. said. “We’re doing our best. A lot of them just don't understand the rules. Flat out.”

And because of that, fewer and fewer people are willing to become officials..

“It’s hard, my kids both tried officiating and both quit because of parent behavior,” Thern said.

The officials want coaches and parents to know that they need to try and to look at things through their perspective

“We give up time from our daily life, our families, sometimes we take vacation from work to go do certain games, so sometimes you have to remind yourself, the parents or the coaches why we’re here,” said Thern.

The Fox Cities Officials Association said they have spent countless hours recruiting new officials, which has worked, but as they said before, they’re just covering it..

“What we need is we need more female officials for softball and girls basketball and we need more younger people that are in either high school or college or even moms or dads whose kids are now out of high school and want to do the officiating,” Thern said.

The WIAA is working with schools to try and bring in the next generation of officials and licensing students through their athletic directors.

“This year we have over 1,300 high school kids registered. We’re hoping that this generates an interest in officiating at a younger age. something that they’ll stay with,” Peterson Abiad said.