Working at Kitsap Sun for the past 15 years, it’s not often that I say to myself, “This is the first time I’ve seen something like this,” when describing an event I’m covering.
These are almost the words I used when attending Saturday’s “official gratitude” barbecue at Bremen High School. Knights football coach Paul Terio and athletics coach Daniel McInnis took turns baking burgers, hot dogs and chicken for about 30 referees from various sports who appeared.
Theriault smiled when someone joked that “Coach T” was trying to see fewer penalty flags in next season’s matches. In fact, Theriault simply wanted to thank the men and women who make West Sound high school / youth sports work properly. Without officials, the games do not take place.
I thought, “We’ll do what we can.” It’s a little thing, let’s give a little love and maybe hire a few boys. “
Yes, recruiting was the secondary goal of Saturday’s event, as contractors from various associations attended in hopes of enrolling some employees for the first time. Unfortunately, no recruits have appeared, which speaks to the difficulty of trying to train referees to help support those who already have to carry a heavy load.
Theriault showed me data from the National Federation of State High School Associations, which shows that 50,000 high school staff have left since 2019. This is not surprising – last summer, while writing about a shortage of referees in Kitsap County, I found a national A study by the Association of Sports Officers, according to which the registration of judges has decreased by 30% in 2021.
“We will run out of referees,” Terio said.
This may sound like hyperbole, but the need for local staff remains significant.
Dave Paul, appointing secretary of the Peninsula Football Association, began the high school football season in 2021 with 26 referees (41 in 2019). Due to shortages, Paul asked local schools to adjust schedules by moving some games to Thursday or even Saturday. Paul said this fall would be the same scenario because there would not be enough staff to distribute on Friday night.
Joe McKenna, commissioner of the Peninsula Wrestling Officials Association, told me he had only nine employees on the rotation to cover last winter’s events, including three for the first time.
“Literally during and after every wrestling game, I tried to hire,” McKenna said.
Due to the low number and the fact that McKenna is the only wrestling referee in his association who has retired, McKenna had to be hired to work in four events in Forks last season. That’s 270 miles each way for McKenna, who lives in Bremerton.
“It’s a long day,” he said.
The question McKenna asks herself is that other referees are struggling with: if I don’t work in this match or tournament, who will? This is a difficult question and I wonder how some of our sports would do when veterans like Paul and McKenna finally decide to hang their whistles. Who will be around to take their place?
Another conversation from Saturday that stands out is the one I had with Dale Newhouse, a retiree from Port Orchard who began serving in the 1960s. He made his way through the ranks and eventually turned out to be working on the Pac-8 conference games (now Pac 12). He has also served in a number of professional leagues, including the United States Football League, the Arena League, the XFL and the NFL / NFL Europe.
Newhouse now works for the Washington Association of Officials as an observer who criticizes and offers feedback to field staff. This is a process that Newhouse enjoys, helping people who follow in his footsteps to improve.
“I go to high school games and I’m sick of the third team,” Newhouse said.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned on Saturday, it’s that we all need to start evaluating the third team better – and come up with ways to help increase their numbers.
Jeff Graham covers high school sports for Kitsap Sun. Contact him at [email protected]