The United States has a sports culture that starts at a young age, but a referee shortage is causing problems at the secondary school level. While there are 300,000 to 350,000 total high school officials, many states are seeing a steep decrease in officials in all sports.
In Nevada, the number of officials registered is 812 down from 1,300 in 2015. Kansas’s basketball referee numbers are at 1,887 down from 2,027 in 2013.
There are several reasons being named for the decrease in sporting officials. The older officials are retiring but the younger generation is not replacing them.
For example, the average age for softball umpires in Kansas is 60. A policy implemented in Tennessee requiring officials to pay their own fee for a criminal background check is being blamed for the state’s 200 referee decrease.
The ability to advance in officiating is very difficult much like many other careers. A limited number of college positions open up each year causing younger officials to spend five to 15 years at the high school level.
One of the biggest reasons for the decrease is the increasingly negative environment officials are subjected too. Verbal and physical abuse from fans is increasing each year and it has been cited as the number one reason for officials to leave the field. Another 85 percent of officials have said they will terminate their services if the environment worsens.
This shortage of officials is affecting secondary school athletics. Many sub-varsity teams are being dropped from schools, because officials are assigned to varsity games first affecting the younger teams. There are also fewer games per sport each season and some schools are even having to drop certain sports altogether.
To learn more about the reasons for the shortage and what is being done to reverse the trend, check out this infographic from Ohio University’s Online Master’s in Athletic Administration.