Youth sports is a way of life for some families, but if something doesn’t change that way of life may disappear.
Across the United States there is a concern about the lack of sports officials. In the Puget Sound area, the problem is amplified by a growing population. While more schools, rec leagues and adult sports clubs are coming online, the number of officials is in a steep decline.
Dean Corcoran, president of the Washington Officials Association, told KIRO 7 News that in recent years they’ve had to ask schools to reschedule games because they didn’t have enough trained refs to be on the sidelines for football games.
“Some of them we just tell them, we can’t handle them,” said Corcoran.
It sounds like a small issue, but bigger problems may lie ahead.
Numbers from the WOA show a scary trend. Whether it’s baseball, football, or soccer, the numbers look the same. There are fewer officials onboard today than 10 years ago.
“If the trend continues it won’t be, ‘You have to reschedule,’” said Corcoran. “It's, ‘We just can’t cover it.’ I’m not sure what the schools will do then.”
It’s unclear whether there is one specific problem. Anecdotally, Corcoran said that people move around more. While many sports officials started working the sidelines in their teens and 20s decades ago, fewer are starting at a young age now.
There is also a growing belief that a drop in sportsmanship is driving would-be officials away.
A recent survey by the National Association of Sports Officials found that 57 percent of officials thought sportsmanship is getting worse.
“I called a ball and I hear, ‘Hey Blue! That’s been a strike all day,’” said Brian Rooney, the recruiting director for the Northwest Baseball Umpires Association. “It was the third pitch of the game!”
Rooney laughs the story off, but said some stories aren’t as funny. He’s gotten an earful from his fair share of coaches, but often times it’s parents in the stands who unload vitriol on young sports officials.
Less than three months ago a referee at a football game in Orting was targeted by parents upset about the game. The situation developed into a full-on brawl, with one referee getting punched and another rushing to their car to avoid the melee.
Believe it or not, Rooney said it’s worse in sports involving younger athletes. He attributes that to more novice officials being used in sports involving younger athletes, and parents being more hyped up.
The work isn’t getting any easier for the officials who are left in the game.
Rooney said it’s not unusual for some of their more dedicated umpires to get twice as many games on their schedule compared to years past. A newer umpire may have worked 20-30 games a few years ago, now they may ump 75+ in a season.
“We have guys working three, four games on a Saturday going from ballfield to ballfield,” said Rooney.
WHERE’S THE FIX?
Corcoran said it’s not pay, prestige or the need to play a sport that drives most officials – it’s the love of the game.
That’s why Corcoran thinks that there’s a viable fix – it’s just a matter of finding the future officials where they are. In the old days a well-placed newspaper ad would draw in willing officials. That’s not working these days.
Both the Washington Officials Association and Northwest Baseball Umpires Associations are now reaching out online, and hoping that speaking up will draw the attention of would-be officials. Those who’ve gotten involved, said Corcoran, typically realize quickly whether it’s for them or not.
“If you love a particular sport this is a great way to stay involved,” said Corcoran. “It is literally the best seat in the house to watch the game.”
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