WEST ALLIS, Wisconsin – Since 1959, the Lakeland Officials Association has recruited, trained, and placed umpires and umpires for youth, high school, collegiate, and adult sporting events in southeastern Wisconsin.
Association president Bob Lunowa said the number of officials had fallen drastically in recent years.
“The last number I had was 10,000 officers licensed in Wisconsin,” Lunowa said. “I think today we’re running at about 6,500.”
He said the pandemic was a key factor in the decline.
“Many of the older officers were concerned about the COVID pandemic and this was a good opportunity for them to retire,” Lunowa said.
Abuse by fans, players and coaches has also been a problem for some officials.
“We began lobbying the State Assembly and Senate to push through harassment bills,” Lunowa said.
He added that there are some bills that could make abuse of an officer a criminal offense.
Todd Clark of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association said abuse is an ongoing problem that they are trying to address. They also try to help with recruitment.
“Long before the COVID pandemic, we struggled to recruit and retain licensed officers for the state of Wisconsin,” Lunowa said. “It’s a concern that’s having an impact not just nationwide, but the whole country.”
The shortage has impacted not just varsity levels, but all levels including freshman and junior varsity.
“Now you see a lot of double heads in one day. Typically on a Thursday you’ll be playing a freshman game and a JV game back-to-back,” Clark said. “You will have a crew there. You want to keep her. They don’t want to find a whole new crew. Now let the crews work twice as many games as usual.”
He said that’s a problem because it can overwhelm the available officers they already have.
Lunowa said some people suggest using coaches to officiate a game.
“But we can’t do that for player safety reasons. They must have officials,” he said.
Lunowa said the association holds clinics to invite officials and train them under experienced professionals. He said he hopes this will help the growing problem as athletes across the state begin their seasons.
On October 2, the association is hosting a golf outing fundraiser to raise money for recruitment efforts. For more information, please contact [email protected]