Just two weeks away from the start of the 2019-2020 sports season, there is a dire need to recruit and sign officials.

According to an Ohio University blog post, in Oregon, the total number of registered sports officials has declined by 12 percent over the last three years, and there are several reasons why.

One is age. Older sports officials are retiring, but there are fewer younger officials joining, so that means there is an aging pool of officials available.

There are between 900-975 officials with 16 or more years of experience. Of the more than 3,300 officials in Oregon, roughly 30 percent are 45 years old and older.

Up until 2017, there were upwards of 300 individuals who just completed their first year, and another 450-500 with one-to-three years of experience.

Another aspect keeping locals off the field and court is the pay scale. A full-time official averages around $20,000 to $25,000 a year, with a per-game rate ranging from $35 to $91 depending on the sport, level and location.

Sports officials also are required to purchase shoes and a uniform and undergo a background check annually at a cost of between $5 and $35, which is paid out of their own pockets.

Verbal abuse from hostile sports fans is another big component of why individuals are staying away, making it much more difficult to attract new officials.

Due to the threats of physical abuse or the onslaught of verbal abuse, 85.7 percent of sports officials say they would leave the profession if those threats worsen.

High school officials also have to compete with more qualified and experienced candidates for bigger games or advancement, which means that younger officials and referees may be unwilling to spend an average of 5 to 15 years officiating at the high school level.

As more officials retire or are unable to do games, there will be schedule conflicts where officials will not be available to work, forcing schools to reschedule, cancel, or otherwise adjust to the number of officials available.

Across the landscape, there has been an 11.4 percent drop in football, 4.5 percent for soccer and 10 percent in volleyball.

Basketball officials are down 23.5 percent, wrestling referees have dipped by a 26.5 percent margin, baseball is down 12 percent and softball has gone from 438 umpires in 2010 to 356 two years ago.

The lack of numbers affects young athletes across all sports disciplines because they are participating in fewer games every season, and the lack of skill development and experience hurts all sports.

Another consequence is the elimination of junior varsity teams. Some sports are discontinued, and some games are canceled or re-scheduled, which puts a burden on administrators, coaches and the athletes and means games may have fewer officials than recommended, so officials may be overworked.

Since only small percentage play college sports or stay in the area, long-time official Lee Kaseberg wants to see more former high school athletes back on the field or court to stay involved as a way of giving back to their communities.

“It keeps you in the game, gives you the same rush as playing,” Kaseberg said. “I still enjoy it now as I did when I was in my first or second year. I want those young guys or girls to have the same feeling I have had as an official.”

Organizations are doing their due diligence to combat some of the abuses, with some schools implementing harsher punishments for those who attack officials, or promoting sportsmanship during games and working with community members and businesses to build a bridge for a more wide-ranging and improved recruitment process.

“It seems to be more difficult every year to retain officials. For some reason, whether the time involved or the potential controversies, many people don’t want to be involved,” said basketball and volleyball official Jeff Justesen.

“To have some of our older officials return is vital and inspiring to our association. It takes commitment and dedication to allow local student-athletes to have the opportunity to be involved in sports,” he added.

After registration, individuals take a test and an online course for officiating principles for 40 minutes. Then prospective officials spend 15-20 minutes watching a video.

Everything in the rule book is also on a searchable database. If not sure of an answer, test takers can bring up the database and access every scenario asked about.

Once the proper regulations are met, individuals will spend around $200 for a uniform and yearly certification.

If initial fees are unaffordable, organizations will spend the money to get a person up to speed and those costs will be deducted after each game, eliminating any cost concerns.

Certification includes some additional benefits, such as liability and accident insurance. Officials get exercise and form bonds with other officials.

Justesen, a former volleyball Official of the Year, says the camaraderie between officials is great to have, but the greatest joy he takes away from the officiating experience is the relationships built with the athletes and their families.

“I truly believe that officiating in rural areas is more rewarding that in the larger metro areas,” Justesen said. “We see the same schools over and over and even our most senior officials work middle school games, so by time an athlete graduates we have seen these athletes in multiple sports for anywhere from four to eight years. We get to know them and their families. I feel like they are friends of the family and I really do hope to see them succeed, not only in athletics, but in life.”

A handful of meetings are scheduled to take place over the next three weeks starting at 6 p.m. every Wednesday at the Bargeway Pub, 1535 Bargeway Road, The Dalles.

Anyone interested in officiating a sport, not just football, is welcomed to attend.

For additional information on joining, call 541-980-2460 or 541-980-4165 or log on to www.osaa.org to complete the entire registration process.

People can also retrieve information from the official OAOA website at www.oreofficials.org.

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