Recently the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) has stated that they are facing a big shortage of officials and referees for their High School sports across the state. The average age for an official is in the mid 50’s and the numbers of those wanting to get into it are dwindling.
But why? A High School basketball referee gets $65 per game and that’s pretty good money for just a couple hours work especially if it’s a quick game. Just 3 years ago the MHSAA had to replace over 1,000 referees! There is a very high turnover rate and there have been many younger people signing up to wear the black and white stripes. But this puts on a lot of stress because of a lack of experience and many are still learning the rules as they go. And sometimes it’s hard because of the need to use less-experienced referees deeper into postseason tournaments.
After covering sports for the better part of 3 plus decades I myself have seen a lot of changes. As someone who gets right down on the floor and as close as possible to the action, I get to see and hear a lot that most fans don’t. And while referees aren’t perfect, most of them understand the rules and do a good job, or really try to. Trust me I’ve seen my share of really bad calls and mistakes. But for the most part, I’ll give a ref the benefit of the doubt. After all, they’re human and not perfect.
But what’s changed? While many games have gotten faster and there are rule changes every new season which the officials have to relearn, I can honestly say the biggest change over the years has been with the people, and by that I mean the players, coaches, and fans. Why this year alone I’ve seen more technicals given on a coach or player lipping off to a ref than I have in the last 5 years combined. I’ve also seen fans ejected for their vulgar language, excessive obnoxiousness, and for even running out onto the court.
Recently at a class D girls basketball game in Jackson, a man did this. The whole game his fan base was complaining about the officials who, in all honesty, called a pretty good game. Sure there was a missed travel here or there but in the first period, the visiting coach and his players started mouthing off to the refs. But the refs did a good job handling it, after calling a technical on the visiting coach and stopping the game and stating that “if they didn’t stop acting the way they were the game would be called.” They had a handle on the game. But there is always “that dad” or “that fan”, you know who I’m talking about, you’ve seen it. You might even be reading this and could be that fan but won’t admit it. But in the fourth period, a man rushed onto the court swearing at the refs because of a supposed bad call. The home coach did the right thing, calling his girls off the court to protect them while this erratic moron was dealt with. He was thrown out of the building in spite of “him paying his $5”. To make matters worse a fan of that mans team went and flashed his off-duty deputy sheriff identification at the young woman in charge insisting she do something about the referees. It was utter chaos over a Class D girls basketball game. And it wasn’t needed nor did it have to happen.
So why would a ref want to put up with that? Is it worth it to them? Most refs get into it because they love sports. They love to be around the kids and are hoping to bring a positive atmosphere to them to reinforce the structure and dignity of the game and instruct them. I’ve heard many explain to the kids what they did wrong and why they called it. I’ve seen many give them warnings before making a call. I’ve seen many laugh and joke around with the kids, help them up when they fall, and respond first when they get hurt. But then I see kids try to argue with them, say rude things to them, and try to get them to call what isn’t illegal because they didn’t score.
Is it a reflection of our society? A majority of the world, the sports world, are good people with great attitudes that love playing sports. Many know they won’t get a full ride to a division 1 college or play in the NBA or NFL. Very few do. Most of the kids are out there because they love the sport, the action, the exercise, and they like to have fun, and do their best and hopefully win. And maybe they will get a scholarship. But then you have the lesser minority of kids who feel they are entitled and are conditioned by their parents and their version of society that they should always get their way and it’s all about them. You will see them yelling at refs, arguing with them. And you will see the same thing with their parents and coaches. So why would anyone want to do this job with all the stress involved?
Lately, several younger men and women have been signing up and are handling it very well. And that’s good to see. But will they be overcome with stress and be able to deal with angry, rude fans? And have you ever noticed when the refs make a great call no one gives them credit? Like in most things they only notice the bad. Hopefully, the MHSAA can keep getting officials but it’s going to be very hard to do unless the fans, coaches, and players work with them and realize they can’t catch everything in the fast-paced world of sports.
Noite: If you would like to sign up and be a referee by all means do. Get out there and show them how you think it should be done if you disagree with them. Simply follow this link https://www.mhsaa.com/officials
If you are under the age of 18, please visit the Legacy Student Officials Program page. If you live outside of Michigan and wish to work games in the state, please consult the Reciprocal Official Information. Both Legacy and Reciprocal officials must register by mail.