Referee shortage impacts Colorado high school sports

CHSAA has been telling sporting directors throughout the summer that they don’t have enough officials to cover games, particularly for Friday night football.

DENVER — A referee shortage in Colorado is forcing some school districts to change their game schedules.

The Colorado High School Activities Association told 9NEWS they are in a crisis situation. They said they had been telling sporting directors throughout the summer they would not have enough officials to cover games, particularly for Friday night football.

Some school districts have already started changing their schedules, including Cherry Creek Schools. Larry Bull, the district’s athletic director, said they postponed eight games to fill the shortage. Most of these are soccer games.

“We sat down and looked at our game schedules and said, OK, can we move this game to a Thursday? Can we move it to a Saturday?” said Bull. “We’ve been doing this with basketball for, I think, three or four years, and it’s just caught up with football.”

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9NEWS spoke to CHSAA Assistant Commissioner Mike Book to find out why the state is seeing a shortage of sports officials.

(Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for context and clarity.)

Is the lack of referees a new problem?

A book: We’ve had it for a number of years and it’s just gotten to the point where we’re kind of in a crisis situation with our officials and the number of competitions and the number of schools that keep opening up and so on. and so we really struggle. I would say that every sport is significantly affected.

How is it currently affecting high school sports in Colorado?

A book: We’ve been talking to schools and athletic directors for most of the summer, with our referrers saying we just don’t have enough people to cover your games. Unfortunately, the short-term answer is that we’ll have to reschedule the nights that are coveted for football or whatever sport, and we’ll have to come up with another plan to cover them.

Many of them play on Thursday evenings or Saturday afternoons. We had to ask officials to do doubleheaders. So they do a 4:00 game and turn around and do a 7:30 game that same night. That’s another thing that affects the office is that the burnout rate really goes up with the number of officers that have left. It’s a nationwide problem.

What are the reasons for the shortage?

A book: I would say the first thing is fan sport behavior. Several surveys have been sent out and we got one returned today by the National Association of Sporting Officials and that is overwhelmingly the number one reason people choose to go or not participate – because of fan behavior.

It’s certainly something we’ve known about, we’ve talked about, but we really need to act and do something about it. And that starts with the schools and the game management and the understanding that we are all there for the children.

I’ve tried recruiting officers, I’ve been doing it for 15 years, and every time I try to ask someone to step in, they’re always like, “I don’t want to be yelled at,” and absolutely he can’t be right reason.

So athletic behavior, obviously pay is a conversation that needs to be addressed, especially with inflation and everything we have going on to get burnout. And we’re not reloading the pipeline, so to speak. We don’t get new officers coming out.

What is the solution?

A book: I think we need to make sure that in the event of bad fan interaction it’s shut down immediately and/or ask that that person or people be escorted out so those who want to be there for the right reasons are out there the right reasons.

We also need to find a way to get these younger children to start ministry. I think they get some curriculum in school and start teaching in high school so they can start doing some youth games and when they finish high school they can go on with that.

We’re also working on various ideas on how to mitigate some of these costs for uniforms and fees and such, since the office is expensive to start with. So we really want to do a lot of things to get officers started, because if we can get them started and get them through their first two to three years, by the time we have them around three years, we have a pretty good chance hold them.

To become a new officer, that individual must contact the area manager and/or referrer for that area to get started. It is often easier to contact me at [email protected] or Monica Tillman at [email protected] and we will put you through to the area manager and referrer.

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