While high school sports are in full swing in Wisconsin, appearing recovered from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the start of the new sports season saw some lingering effects from the last few years of quarantine – namely – a lack of referees.
“Many of these crews, not only are working one or two but many times three or four games in a week and our athletic directors know the need for flexibility in moving games,” Tom Shafranski, Assistant Director of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA), said.
While the sports season is bringing some much-needed mental and physical benefits to the students, referees are facing a tough season. Many referees are older in age, and many of them have retired from the job due to health concerns, especially as COVID-19 protocols have loosened in many parts of the country.
According to the WIAA, the number of licensed referee officials has dropped from 9,249 registered personnel in 2019-2020 to 6,071 in 2021-2022.
“There was a shortage there, not as bad, pre-pandemic, during the pandemic, that put an exclamation mark on that shortage,” Barry Mano, the president of the National Association of Sports Officials, said.
“We need to get the warm bodies back because without us you’re not having sports,” he urged.
Mano also cited verbal abuse towards referees from overbearing parents and spectators as reasons to why there are less referees, noting that these issues need to be fixed moving forward, perhaps through the form of more penalties.
“The bad behavior being exhibited towards officials has never been worse,” Mano said. “That is driving men, women and young people out of the ranks.”
“We might have to put a line in the sand that says to the parents, because they’re the problem, parents [and] fans, if you act out in a certain way, your kid’s not going to be able to participate,” Mano said. “I don’t even like saying it but I don’t know what else we can do.”