IDAHO — The high school winter sports season is quickly approaching, but a shortage of referees across the country and here in the Gem State could create some issues.
"The worst thing is we don’t want to have to mess with the kids," Sean Weatherston, Third District Officials Association, Basketball Director, said. "We want those student-athletes to be able to play their games."
But, Weatherston said that this could, unfortunately, be the case if they don't get more officials soon.
“Last year was the first year that we really had an issue as far as questioning whether or not we have enough officials on a regular basis," he said. "Pre-COVID we were right around 200 officials, and last year with COVID we only had 140 with the same number of games to covers, so that started to create some problems."
Although, because of COVID-19, games were more spread out last year, so they didn't have to cancel any games because of no referees.
"This year we are not going to have that same situation, so the college season is going too, and so we are going to need officials," Weatherston said. "We have added another school or two as well just this year, so more games to cover, and right now we are sitting about at 150 officials."
Some fall sports were affected, and they fear the same will be true for winter sports, especially basketball.
"Volleyball was affected to some extent. Football normally, the 4a and 5a games would have five officials and most of those games only had four officials this year because of the shortage," Weatherston said. "We were just spread out very very thin, so that could happen with basketball."
Games may also have to be played on Mondays and Wednesdays to spread out the availability of refs.
Weatherston said that there are a few reasons for the shortage, one being the pandemic, but also the pay.
"We just renegotiated a new contract for the next three years and the schools stepped up and they made a good investment in raising our pay," he said.
Another big reason: fan behavior, which leads to refs quitting into their first and second years.
"Obviously we take a little bit of abuse sometimes as an official and it is always more challenging for the new officials because they are not as confident and they don’t know things as well," Weatherston said. "They haven’t gotten used to those comments and gotten that thicker skin."
The Third District Officials Association is working on training refs on how to handle these types of situations, and providing them, especially newer officials with more support.
"We are doing zoom training to help people understand where they need to be standing on the basketball floor, what kind of calls they need to make, you know help people with the rules," Weatherston said. "We also to do a lot of mentorships, you get paired with an older official, a more experienced official to be able to help you through learning some of the ropes."
Weatherston hopes to be able to share his expertise and love of officiating with other passionate sports lovers.
"The life lessons you can learn through sports are evident and they are totally applicable for being a referee as well," he added. "Talk about learning conflict resolution, learning about being in different situations with different people, having to get along with all sorts of people, and then I have met some great friends that I would have not met otherwise."
As we get closer to winter sports season, it's crunch time for them to find more officials. But Weatherston said that there is still time to sign up and go through the training before the season starts.
The cut-off date is Mon., Nov. 8 to sign up. For more information or to sign up head to www.idahoofficials.com, and click on the sport of interest.