GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The shortage of high school officials continues across the United States.
Brad Brunet, the registrar of the West Michigan Officials Association says the average age of officials is in the mid-50s.
He also says that numbers of referees in our area are on the decline.
"In football, we lost a number of officials," Brunet said, "then in basketball we lost even more."
The West Michigan Officials Association saw a direct impact from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I think in the West Michigan area and the OK conference, we lost over 100 Basketball officials last winter due to started stoppage the late in the season, having to wear mask all the different requirements that were involved there," Brunet added, "hopefully we get back to normal and those officials that did opt outside to come back."
Dave Chesney is a member of the WMOA and has been a football and basketball official for the past 48 years and counting, he says it's important that the youth begins to get involved.
"I would encourage students if you're a current college student, to take a class if your school or university offers a sports officiating class," Chesney said, "that's how I got involved. I needed a one credit class so I signed up for the class and 48 years later, here I am."
In West Michigan, we've already seen high school football games get rescheduled this past fall due to the ongoing shortage of officials and Brunet says the problem could get worse.
"I'm very concerned because each year our numbers get thinner and thinner," Brunet added, "we do recruit and bring in newer officials, but not at the rate that we need to. We have more and more retiring, and we do have a lot of officials that probably should retire and they know they should, but they stick around for the love of the game, because they know we don't have anyone to replace them yet."
Chesney admits there is an ongoing problem with how parents, fans and coaches have treated officials over the past several years but also says that problem isn't going to change.
"That's where the training component comes in," Chesney said, "it takes a certain amount of emotional intelligence from the official's standpoint and that's a learned skill. If you can't deal with that aspect, then you do it for two or three years and you drop out, for that very reason of the lack of sportsmanship."
The criticism is the number one reason for officials not sticking around longer term which, of course, hurts the numbers.
"I don't think that the curriculum in sports officiating deals with that component," Chesney added on the impact of fan and coach criticism, "and that can be the biggest component of deterrence for young officials."
Brunet says he understands the parent and coach behavior at times but says everyone must do better to address this ongoing issue.
"We have to step back and realize that these officials are not NFL officials at the high school level, they're not top college officials, some might just be starting out," said Brunet.
He adds that they'll gladly take more officials if parents are interested.
"Nobody wants to mess up, nobody wants to look bad, they're doing the best job they can and we are always looking for new officials so if parents think that they can do a good job or a better job than the officials out there, we will take anybody and everybody and train them to the best that we can."
Registration is underway for the 2021-22 high school sports season through the MHSAA and locally, the WMOA who helps train and educate officials.