My entire life has featured a strong connection to sports. As a youngster, my time was typically spent shuttling to or at football, soccer, basketball, baseball or track practice or to one of my siblings’ practices or contests.
I’m proud to have been a three-sport athlete at Seaside High School although my golf career featured more bogeys and double bogeys than pars and birdies.
After high school I knew that I wanted to pursue a career around sports and while that career path took a while to flush out, I did find one opportunity early on that filled my passion bucket and was rewarding.
I’ve been a sports official for about 12 years, working baseball, softball, football and basketball but in recent years focusing on the latter two of those sports. I began by working intramural sports, youth sports, adult recreation and then shifted to high school and collegiate contests.
My passion for officiating can be explained in the following reasons. First, officiating gives me an opportunity to stay connected and benefit the sports that I loved to play.
Athletic contests need officials just as bad as they need teams and facilities and without the women and men in the striped shirts, the games cannot go on.
Second, officiating fulfills a competitive desire that I have to continually improve. I do strive for perfection, as does nearly every official that I’ve ever met, each game.
While that isn’t often obtained, I challenge myself to be better, work harder and learn more so that I can get the plays right and do right by the game.
Lastly, officiating is an amazing and fun part of my life. While it ranks below many other responsibilities—namely family and my job— I truly enjoy the feeling of working a great game with friends.
But herein lies the great problem. Officiating, or rather officials, are a dying industry. Oregon is more than 1,000 officials short, according to the Oregon Athletic Officials Association and has featured declines of at least 3% to 5% over the past few years.
Our local area features some great officials that are dedicated to the craft, but their ranks are thinning with each year and season. The results are tricky at best and perilous at worst. Officials may be asked to work multiple games in a day, which could leave them mentally and physically fatigued. In other areas of the state and across the country, lower level athletic contests are being canceled because of the shortage of officials.
What’s perhaps the worst part about this discussion is the consideration of what keeps people from becoming officials and what drives them away. More than three-fourths of all officials don’t make it to the third year of their officiating career.
Research (conducted by the National Association of Sports Officials) indicates that the number one reason why officials quite is due to adult behavior. You don’t have to look hard to find harrowing tales of abuse and harassment from fans and parents and that occurs from the stands but can unfortunately extend to the parking lot or wherever.
Low pay demands on time and travel and physical challenges can also impact the shortage of officials.
Now I’m not saying that all officials are perfect, and I know that I certainly am not. Whereas professional referees are graded out each game and typically get more than 95% of their calls correctly, a local high school or college game might be less than that. But we are trying and, in most cases,, giving tremendous effort to do our absolute best to get each call right and allow the athletes to have the best possible experience.
My wish for you this Holiday season, is that the next time you go to a Seaside High School game, youth contest, or watch your favorite football team, you give the referees a little bit of latitude as they work their game. My wish is that you find time to say those two little words that can mean so much to an official: thank you.
If you can’t manage to do that, come on out and give officiating a try. If it’s so easy, you should be able to pick it up in no time!