KALAMAZOO, Mich. — By now, it's no secret that the shortage of officials continues all across the country in high school athletics.
However, on Saturday at the Kalamazoo Officials Association football clinic, they had a record turnout of 150 officials all eager to learn from some incredible mentors and speakers.
"There's been a decline in official sportsmanship from players and fans," said KOA vice president, Todd Gooding on the topic of small numbers in officiating.
Officials associations have been working to recruit younger officials to join as the average age continues to climb in the profession.
"We definitely need officials and they're getting older and older," said Big Ten football official, John Roggleman. "We need the younger guys to replace them."
Long-time college football official and now ESPN rules analyst Matt Austin was the keynote speaker at Saturday's clinic and has seen a lot of change over the years.
"When I started back in 1977, there were a lot of officials in every sport, but these days with all of these officials getting attacked by parents and coaches, why would anyone want to officiate?"
While honest, he says the positives certainly outweigh the negatives of officiating.
"You get to bring some money in, it's great for relationships, some of my best friends in the world now are sports officials I met coming up the ranks," Austin added.
In fact, Austin drove in from Kentucky to be a speaker at Saturday's event in front of a record crowd of attendees.
"The most we ever had was 35, then last time we had around 60," Gooding added on the turnout. "Today we're just packed; we have over 150 and that's just outstanding seeing the commitment these people are making to get better."
Roggleman has been a Big Ten official since 2003 and his message to the attendees was simple: It's all about giving back.
"It's a service, particularly at the high school levels and lower levels. They're providing a service that allows the communities to have these great football games."
And that's evident by those like Roggleman and Austin who made long drives to Kalamazoo to mentor the younger referees.
"Our clinicians have come as far as eight to twelve hours away round trip to give back," Gooding said. "We have clinicians from Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, it's just outstanding. That's why they're where they're at."
The Kalamazoo Officials Association is hopeful that Saturday's outstanding turnout is only the beginning of a much-needed turnaround in numbers.
"This is by far the most people they've had so that's a good sign, and I understand they have around 20 new officials, which is also great," Roggleman told FOX 17.
High school football practices begin Monday with the scrimmages beginning on Aug. 18 and 19.