Nationwide referee shortage impacting high school activities in Kansas

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Topeka, Kan. (KSNT) – Coronavirus has had a big impact on high school athletes in more ways than one. Beyond canceled games and delayed seasons — the pandemic is also compounding an ongoing national scarcity of referees.

Local athletes can’t get a bucket or score a touchdown without officials on the field, and they’re getting harder to come by

“Like almost every state in the United States over the past few years has seen a decline in the amount of officials who are registering and want to work high school activities,” Kansas High School Activities Association Assistant Executive Director Francine Martin said.

The issue began with sportsmanship, a person can only handle so many insults from the stands, but a pandemic has done it no favors.

“Many of of our officials and some of our activities are people who would be in the high risk category or they have someone at home who is in the high risk category,” Martin said.

While football has drawn the most attention for athlete safety, the concern for refs is the indoor sports now and for winter.

“Actually, probably our biggest decline is in volleyball, it’s an inside activity, which is more concerning for people than maybe being out on a soccer field or a football field,” Martin said.

And peaking on the horizon, the sport that’s been effected the most.

“We are down right now almost 500 officials basketball wise, from last year,” Martin said.

Normally, the state has nearly 2000 basketball officials. In less populated parts of Kansas, the effects may be worse for a variety of reasons

“Football wise, it’s kind of a safety thing having enough officials to see everything they need to see in a game,” Big 7 and Twin Valley league commissioner Josh Tanking said. Tanking is tasked with making sure all the teams in his leagues have referees assigned to their games.

Less officials also means less opportunity to schedule games

“Ultimately, you hope the officials go ahead and register, but if they don’t, schools and leagues are going to have to look into different night of scheduling games on, possibly combining nights,” Tanking said.

Currently, no game has been canceled because of a lack of referees, but having the normal amount on the field has been impacted, especially below the varsity level.

If you’re interested, there’s no better time to become a ref

“Every week, all the assigners in northeast Kansas, they’re sending emails out every day needing officials,” Tanking said.

And there is something to take away from these tough times

“The silver lining I guess you would say is that there’s gonna be some officials who get opportunities they normally wouldn’t have provided to them,” Tanking said.

With so many people looking for work right now, refereeing can be a great source of income.
If you want to find out how to be a referee, follow this link.

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