The fall high school sports season is already underway amidst a nationwide shortage of high school officials.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, around 50,000 people have stopped officiating since 2018/2019, the last year unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s not easy to be a high school soccer referee, but it can be rewarding.
“You know, running up and down the field and staying involved with the play, that’s the biggest challenge,” said referee Steven Owoh. “Seeing the kids have fun because that’s what it’s all about and seeing them succeed.”
Some of these referees have been officiating games for over 10 years, some over 20.
Keeping these referees around can be challenging.
Mark Kadlecik assigns referees to games throughout the Triangle. He says even with a pool of 200 referees, it’s hard to make sure every game is covered and when a game is canceled due to rain, rescheduling is sometimes impossible.
“What I’m finding is post-COVID people are working 9 to 5 and a lot of the schools want to play early, which makes you rely on an older pool of officials which there aren’t a lot of because of the demands of the game. You have to be fit,” said Kadlecik. “There’s been situations where they want to play the doubleheader the next day with the JV and the varsity. I say ‘listen I can cover the varsity but not the JV’. I just can’t get people on such short notice.”
One way Kadlecik hopes to add referees is by targeting young people like college students.
“What’s kinda cool is once one referee from college says ‘hey, you can make 65 bucks a day doing a game’, they start telling their friends and there’s been a trickle-down effect,” said Kadlecik. “Now the thing that stinks about that is you only have them for four years.”
The season officially gets underway on Monday, but it’s not too late to sign up to be a referee.
The triangle soccer officials association makes it easier for first-time officials to do just that by waiving certain association dues.