Officiating shortage to affect high school sports across the U.S.

Published 11:00 am Saturday, July 15, 2023

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Across the United States there is a growing concern due to a shortage of officials. The shortage could start to show an effect for some local athletic programs. 

The AHSAA is experiencing a severe shortage of officials. Currently the AHSAA is working with 6,900 officials across all sports. Director of Officials, Ken Washington, believes that the AHSAA needs around 1,100 more officials. 

Washington noted several reasons for the lack of officials. He believes that some of the shortage is still a holdover from the global pandemic. Washington also thinks that some officials are just tired of dealing with some of the heckling that comes with being an official in high school athletics. 

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“People got an opportunity to stay at home and realized they didn’t miss it that much,” Washington said. “Then, there are some that signup and maybe experience unruly fans [and] coaches and just don’t want to deal with that.” 

Another problem that Washington has seen is officials feeling like they are not progressing quickly enough. Several officials set goals to officiate championship games. When they do not get that opportunity, they often choose to give it up. 

Washington believes that more people should look into officiating because it gives an opportunity to stay closer to sports, network and make long lasting friendships. 

There are different officiating groups within the AHSAA that cover different regions. Valley and Lanett are covered by the Big East Football Officials Association out of Auburn. 

Dana Barker is the president of the Big East Football Officials. He says that they currently have 60 officials for varsity football that cover nine schools.
As of now, Barker believes that high school officiating in this area has been mostly unaffected by the shortage. 

“It hasn’t affected us locally or in Alabama as much as it has other states or other sports,” Barker said. “We’re kind of blessed in that way.” 

The Big East Officials Association has not been completely unaffected by the official shortage. The Big East has had to completely cut their youth officiating as well as their junior varsity officiating for schools in the AISA. 

When the Big East was still doing youth sports, several of the officials would have to work up to four games a week. This resulted in some of their best officials experiencing burnout. 

Schools like Chambers Academy and Springwood that are in the AISA have been affected more than others by the officiating shortage. 

“I know they’ve had to move games to Thursdays and Saturdays just to have enough officials,” Barker said. “You know guys are double dipping. You got guys that are working two games. That’s great, but you don’t know if you’re getting the same quality of games on Friday night when you have a crew that just came off the field on Thursday night.”

Barker believes that the Big East Officials have been able to avoid some of the issues with the shortage due to the system that they have in place. 

“We have a good group of guys that get along with each other,” Barker said. “We do things that other associations don’t do.”

One thing that the Big East does differently is setting up crews for the entire football season. Barker believes that this helps the officials to build more of a relationship with each other and enjoy getting on the field more.

A problem that all officiating groups are facing is the average age of the officials. So far, the younger generation is not participating in officiating as much as Barker would like to see. 

“The average age is 50 plus,” Barker said. “I’m 44, and I’m considered one of the young bucks. We’re trying to get some younger guys in there.”

An issue that Barker has seen with the younger generation is a lack of communication or conflict resolution skills. 

“There’s some soft skills that we’re training the newer generation on how to talk to officials face to face,” Barker said. “

The Big East Officials Association is working to build communication skills and teach some younger officials how to handle certain situations. 

Barker attributes some of the issues with face to face interactions to social media. He stated that the younger generation has gotten used to doing most of their interactions online. In those avenues, someone can just block or “ghost” someone to avoid confrontation. 

“You can’t ghost Adam Hunter asking you about a call on Friday night,” Barker said.

Barker believes that the main reasons that younger officials quit is due to money and getting heckled by fans or coaches.