Referee shortage leaves uncertainty for high school sports

TULSA -- A shortage of sporting officials is posing potential problems for high school athletics. 

The Greater Tulsa Officiating Association said they have 215 officials right now. They need 350 to comfortably cover the games they are assigned to. 

President of the GTOA, Ethan Rolen, said they have not reached the critical level yet but could get to that point in the next couple of years if nothing changes between now and then.

"A critical level would be, 'We don't have five guys to send to a game,' Rolen said. "We have assigned our first 30 games and we don't have another crew to send out, so there is a high school out there somewhere that doesn't have a crew." 

Each high school football game needs five officials. Obviously, the referees do not want to put any game in jeopardy, so if the situation gets critical they will have to get creative. 

"Do we only play on Fridays?" Rolen asked. "Do we play on Thursdays? Do we play on Saturdays? A lot of different choices have to be made based on the number of officials."

 With the older generation retiring, they need young men and women to fill their shoes. 

"Good officials are invaluable," David Alexander, head football coach for Broken Arrow High School, said. "They handle the game. They control the game without really being seen."

Rolen said there are many factors that are driving the new generation out. He said it is time consuming, it is not easy and they face confrontations. 

"I've had one official... we were in the middle of a game and he handed me his hat and he said, 'I don't want to do this' and we never saw him again," Rolen said.

At time, Rolen agrees the pay is not worth the abuse. These new officials start out at games with younger athletes to train and that is where most of the tense moments happen. However, the long time official said it is worth it in the end. 

"There are a lot of things that are challenging, but at the same time, it is the most rewarding experience other than being a husband and a father that I've ever had," Rolen said.

The high school football players are lifting weights and running four times a week during the summer. Coach Alexander said his players are already focused on their game against Union on August 24. He said if they were not able to play after all their hard work, they would be crushed.

"If anyone is even thinking about it, at least go investigate," Coach Alexander said.

To get involved, contact your local referee association. For the Tulsa area, it is the Greater Tulsa Officiating Association. 

Rolen said officials have to pass rule tests and attend meetings every year. 
 

 

 

 

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