TULSA -- A national epidemic threatening high school sports is at a critical level in Oklahoma. It isn't the budget cuts. It's the fleeting number of referees and officials.
The problem is so bad it could soon limit junior high and junior varsity games. What's even more interesting, is that fans may partly to blame.
Locust Grove football players are training now for the fall season. Coach Matt Hennesy hopes referees are doing the same.
It's just the quality hasn't been as great,” Hennesy said. “You know they'll study the rule books and stuff, but there are some things that you just have to practice. Just like football.”
But new recruits aren't lining up to officiate like they used to. So the few that do sign up get assigned to varsity games without the needed experience.
You see it especially a lot at our level, 3A and 2A on down,” Hennesy said. “Because the best crews are going to Jenks-Union game.”
Oklahoma's governing body for high school sports, the OSSAA, is also concerned at the lack of interest in officiating.
“For what they are paid, a lot of them just don't feel like it's worth it,” according to OSSAA director David Jackson.
The pay is a problem. Referees make modest money, especially for sub-varsity and junior high games. It varies depending on the sport, from about $50 to $100 a game.
But, much of the blame also rests on the fans and an unsportsmanlike attitude that filters down to the players.
People in the stands, and some of the coaches themselves, are not being very patient with the learning curve that's involved with officiating,” Jackson said.
Bad calls at the college and pro levels have the benefit of instant replay. But, it's still up to the human eye from high schools on down, which is something parents and players have trouble tolerating.
“You know, the ones that drive me crazy are the ones that get on social media and rip the officials,” said Hennesy. “It's not going to change the outcome of the game.”
And it isn't just football affected. Basketball and baseball are hurting for officials, too.
“(Parents and fans) are running off our officials in all sports,” said Terry Kimmel, vice-president of the Tulsa Metro Umpires Association.
The association has lost over 25 percent of their members since last year. So the crews remaining are spread thin.
“I meet with (Tulsa Metro) athletic directors in May,” said Kimmel. “We're getting to the point where we may have to start dictating when we can play to get it covered.”
It's a situation that will only get worse, unless a few good men and women step up to the plate now.
The OSSAA and Oklahoma school districts are working with their administrators and coaches to talk to fans and players about sportsmanship.
Meanwhile, residents who are interested in becoming a high school sports official must register with the OSSAA through their website. Then, find the Greater Tulsa officiating association to pick the sport.
The process usually requires an annual meeting and a rules test before you can start.
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