Northwest Student Media

In with the new out with the old, a constant cycle of replacement, but once the system is broken your favorite high school athletics may suffer.

High school referees are becoming people of value to the Missouri State High School Activities Association as a shortage threatens the future of high school sports in Missouri.

The state of Missouri started feeling the heat a few years back as it came to the realization that an eventual problem would soon be at its feet.

The problem is and was the rising age of officials throughout Missouri without necessary replacement. As no clear solution presents itself MSHSAA is putting this as issue number one for the future.

“We began to notice a real difference approximately five years ago, fewer and fewer new people were showing up for the annual training (mechanics clinic),” MEC official assigner Don Lawrence said. “We are trying to prevent this from becoming a major issue, I guess I would say we’re moving from a yellow alert to an orange status.”

As age goes up, the shortage grows as more and more officials are leaning toward retirement. With an average age above 50 for all officials, the problem lies with the youth joining the referee association.

“Ages are very much an issue,” Savannah High School Athletic Director Chad Dreyer said. “We're not replenishing the older officials that are stepping away fast enough which is what's causing some of the problems.”

The shortage is not biased toward any sport or any location as places all around Missouri are taking hits in their own ways. From place to place the issues seem to be different everywhere you can possibly go.

In the southeast part of the state the limited supply of referees seems to come from basketball. Places like St. Louis are struggling to find officials to stick to a soccer background, while all of Missouri struggles to find volleyball referees.

“Volleyball is a main issue for sure. It has gotten a little better in the last couple of years,” Athletic Director and Secretary for the KCI Conference David Elms said. “I remember when I first became an AD (Athletic Director) 18 years ago, I would hand the official that was working the game a contract for the next year just so I would have a contract in hand because they were so hard to find.”

Smaller conferences are being hit the hardest as the Athletic Directors in the districts are struggling to find replacements for referees. One of the major victims in this shortage is the Midland Empire Conference as St. Joseph and Maryville never seem to have enough referees on hand.

To support the entirety of the MEC conference are four active official crews in Maryville and seven crews in St. Joseph. However, after the season finishes two of the crews in St. Joseph will disappear as one retires and the other disbands. This creates a major issue for a conference already struggling at keeping control of the rotation.

“In 2016, there were more games for the opening round of football playoffs than there were crews of officials. Some games were moved to Saturdays in order to deal with the situation,” Lawrence said. “In Northwest Missouri, I would say we are very close to being at critical mass.”

As the number of referees in each area slowly diminish in population, sports continues to grow at a rapid rate. More and more schools are taking the initiative to bring activities of all kinds to the kids in order to get involved. While the movement pushes for more athletics, MSHSAA cannot help but to sweat the implications.

“The problem is that more and more schools are playing more and more sports,” Director of Officiating at MSHSAA Kenny Seifert said. “So as it goes we are leaning towards the need for more officials.”

MSHSAA is not taking this issue lightly.  They have pushed everything in their power in order to change the direction of the number of officials into the positive side.

Education is key to the solution as MSHSAA and all their officials have begun spreading knowledge of being a referee to anyone that will hear. In order for them to spread information to youth, it made sense to go to the places where education co-exists with sports.

“We are trying to be proactive,” Seifert said. “We are going to college and universities that offer classes like coaching classes, sports management classes, sports exercise classes and speaking to athletes, exposing them to officiating allowing them to give back to the game when it’s all said and done.”

From in campus visits to spreading the news around, MSHSAA knows the cost of not being proactive enough in the community. Many of the smaller conferences are coming together in order to stop the shortage at any rate.

The MEC made their own attempt at spreading the request for help when they met last winter and spring. The movement included posting fliers in high traffic areas such as highways, campuses and fitness centers.  They also ran television ads and newspaper ads to get the attention of the demographic they are looking for. Not only that, they’ve ventured to local high schools around the county. Lawrence recalls talking to nearly “75 Athletic Directors” in his venture to grow the referee community.

“Our hope was to look and recruit for younger blood,“ Lawrence said. “So that would sustain us for numerous years.”

MSHSAA is continuing their fight for the referee supply with their new formula that has been instilled. This formula is called the four to one initiative, including the idea that if an athletic director or an official has been in his position for four years they are expected to recruit one new referee to the community.

This process repeats every four years these AD’s and officials have their position within MSHSAA. To go along with that comes the expansion of roles within the organization itself. This includes a new position within MSHSAA that is specifically there to recruit new officials for the Athletic Directors.

The high-ranking officials throughout MSHSAA will continue to strive to reduce the problem. Until the problem is resolved, high school activities will be forced to move according to officials schedules over preseason schedules.

“Activities have had to be moved off of their traditional dates to spread out the pool of available officials,” Dreyer said. “I've personally had to pull officials from as far away as Sedalia to cover last minute official shortages.”

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