There’s a somewhat quiet but growing concern in high school sports: referee shortages.
No sport has been more impacted than soccer, where last season multiple games were postponed or affected by a lack of available officials.
“The demand is so great and the supply is so little that there’s no balance, and there can’t be,” Texas Association of Sports Officials Tarrant Chapter President Kyle Borne said. “There’s no one answer. It’s multiple issues combined.”
Among the primary reasons for the referee deficiency is simple attrition. The median age of officials keeps increasing, but the influx of new referees doesn’t match those leaving the sport. Borne also said that verbal abuse of game officials by parents and coaches has added to the decline.
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Factor in the traditional Tuesday-Friday playing schedule for most UIL high school sports, as well as an increased demand for officials as new schools and programs are added, and it’s not hard to do the math: too many matches, too few referees.
Some districts are taking measures to alleviate the strain on the referee supply chain, notably District 7-5A, which is built completely of Fort Worth ISD programs. Coaches and athletic directors agreed to play most district games on Thursdays and Saturdays.
“We’re getting, I think, some of the area’s better referees,” South Hills boys coach Steve Andrews said. “We didn’t see that in the tournaments or in the preseason, so we’re loving life in getting a full complement of officials. The game just doesn’t work when you’re getting just one or two.”
Coaches from North Side and Arlington Heights shared similar feelings about making the schedule adjustment.
“I would agree with that,” said Heights girls coach Dave Rubinson. “I feel like it’s important that we have quality referees, so if that’s what is required I didn’t care.”
“I was definitely for it,” North Side boys coach Garth Briggeman said. “We’re definitely seeing our games filled with officials, which is nice, and even new officials we haven’t seen before.”
The altered scheduling hasn’t been without its issues. Coaches in 7-5A have had to rethink training approaches.
There’s also a greater likelihood of conflicts outside school athletics when it comes to playing on Saturdays. Briggeman noted that his squad has missed players because of church functions, academic tutoring such as SAT prep, or even commitments to other teams.
“You don’t have a lot of turnaround,” Andrews said. “It’s kind of figuring out that whole rhythm. Trying to figure out the rest for the players, that for us has been a big part of the strategy.”