Delay of game: Whitley Co. feels heat of ref shortage

By Travis Stahl

For the Churubusco News

WHITLEY COUNTY — It would appear based on all of the businesses currently displaying help wanted signs, that the economy in Indiana is booming.

Fast food restaurants, retailers and even factories are having a difficult time finding employees. There just aren’t people who want to perform those jobs.

The same goes for officiating high school sporting events. Schools across Indiana are finding it more and more difficult to find officials for games.

It would seem logical that finding qualified officials in specialized sports like soccer or wrestling would be a challenge. But athletic directors across the state are running in to the same problem. Nobody wants to be an official right now. Most schools even use assigner services, companies which charge a fee to find officials from across the state. The fear is, it won’t be long before even the more attended sports like football and basketball face the same crunch.

“We need more adults who want to officiate,” said Columbia City athletic director Khelli Leitch. “It will become a bigger challenge in the future. The writing is on the wall.”

Leitch said older officials only want to do junior varsity games and there just aren’t enough young people becoming officials now to replace them. That is especially true in football and basketball where older officials specifically request the reserve games.

Churubusco head football coach Paul Sade echoed those same concerns and said it was a major topic of discussion at some recent state coaching meetings.

“We have a major shortage in football,” said Sade. “There are a lot of guys retiring and there just isn’t anybody to replace them.”

Sade said the lack of officials may force schools to abandon playing football games on Friday nights. As it becomes more difficult to find officials high school teams may have to start playing varsity games on Saturday afternoons when more of the older officials are willing to do games.

Becoming a sanctioned official through the Indiana High School Athletic Association is considered easy to achieve. All a person has to do to become an official is pay $50 to take the test in their interested sport and then pass an open-book test with a score of 75 percent or higher. After passing the test, the individual then joins the officials association of whatever sport you have become licensed in. Licensed officials are required to attend a rules interpretation meeting then once every year.

Leitch said he can’t pinpoint an exact reason why there are few people becoming officials, but he has heard some feedback from older referees.

“Officials say the crowd culture is different now,” said Leitch. “Our crowds are pretty good here but other places have issues.”

Whitko athletic director Josh Mohr agreed. Mohr said fans in the stands are more emotional now then in years past.

“People are more emotional about the games now,” said Mohr. “It gets people carried away at times.”

Mohr does have one solution to the problem. When he encounters a fan or former player who he feels has the right demeanor, he will encourage them to become an official.

“It can be very rewarding for some people,” said Mohr.

The decreasing number of officials is a major problem not just for the schools in Whitley County but across the state. As the more experienced officials in every sport begin to retire, the IHSAA just can’t find enough willing applicants to fill the need. In preparation for the unknown future, Leitch has already begun to line up officials for Columbia City games for the 2022 season. And even then those officials may no longer be working games.

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