From My View For Week of Feb. 3
I would like to focus this column on the lack of referees, umpires and judges for sporting events. Let’s start with football since its the fan-favorite in the Wetzel County area. In high school football the OVAC uses a head referee, two side umpires and a backfield umpire or referee. The OVAC uses 5-man crews for their high school football games. They currently have 230 officials for this upcoming season, but all are not able to commit every week.
The number of officials needed on a Friday night can vary from 75-115. However, due to that availability of crews and other conference criteria considered – such as travel, team and official scratches, the experience level of crews, a limit on the number of times any official can work for a particular school – they often find the roster very tight.
“The OVAC has conducted a Football Officiating Academy for the past several years with good success,” OVAC Football Commissioner David Clutter said. “Because of this, we’ve been able to add 10-15 quality folks to our ranks.
The proper training and development are essential to attracting and retaining new officials. The OVAC continues to strive to ensure that every new, qualified official is given an opportunity for varsity games assignments. This is crucial to retention,” added Clutter.
“How they handle those opportunities will determine long-term success. The system is working, but with the average age of our experienced officials at around 50+, and contemplating retirement, our need is escalating.”
The definition of a referee is a person of authority in a variety of sports who is responsible for presiding over the game from a neutral point of view and making on-the-spot decisions that endorse the rules of the sport, including sportsmanship decisions, such as ejections.
In baseball and softball, there is a home-plate umpire, who is in charge of calling balls and strikes, who is sometimes assisted by base umpires.
In volleyball, the game is presided by a first referee, who observes the action above the net and looking down into the court, while a second referee assists the other official at ground level on the opposite side of the net, and in front of the scorer’s table.
In wrestling, most dual meets are judged by one umpire, while tournaments and tri-matches have two or more. In soccer there are at least two officials, and in some areas, three people that make sure the game is played by the rules and regulations set down by the national and state associations.
In track, there are judges, timers and referees.
I believe that covers all the sports we have in our high school and middle schools.
These referees, umpires and judges are there to help maintain standards of play and they are to detect infractions and decide penalties, according to the rules of the game to help make the game or match.
That is where the need for officials are needed, not just in our area, but the entire OVAC and Mid-Ohio Valley areas. The people in these positions are starting to get older and are fading away.
Some are getting older, but some are getting tired of all the things needed to stay and get certified -the meetings they must attend and the fees required. Also throw in the tests that are required before and during the season, as well as the expenses that accrue in the traveling to all the many meetings they must attend to become and stay eligible to officiate.
There are other factors at the grass-roots level that result in officials not staying around for very long. For those who are presently serving as officials, the number one reason looks to be, stage of life younger officials tend to leave early within the first five years. Second, is the commitment to other activities including, work and family functions. Third, but probably first, is stress and burnout for older officials.
Inexperienced officials are more likely to leave due to stress and verbal abuse, while the more experienced identified career and family demands as the main reasons to leave. In many cases, the reasons for leaving may include, but not limited to, opportunities of advancement and recognition from their peers. As an official, stress, combined with their age, overwork and burnout have caused risk of injury as factors in the long-term participation in some sports.
In the OVAC, John Howell takes care of placing basketball officials in high school varsity games. He schedules all OVAC games that have expanded from Wheeling, Weirton and Cambridge to include Morgantown and Parkersburg. He has never had to go outside of the OVAC area to assign games and has not had to tell schools to cancel games due to shortage of officials. On nights with many make-up games, he has used more officials than normal and has nearly ran out a couple of times.
There have been nights where between 25-30 varsity games were scheduled, but other nights it may only be down to five to ten. “I have between 170-190 varsity eligible officials available, but all are not available every night, and many are registered in one state,” said Howell.
“The officials from Cambridge, Morgantown and Parkersburg officiate most of their games outside the OVAC, and yes, more officials are needed and each year the top officials get older and their ability to cover games diminishes with each season.
“Getting people to become officials is very difficult, a few years ago, I sent a letter to each boys’ and girls’ OVAC basketball coach requesting that they supply one name of a potential new official. I received no replies. Every time I go to a game there are many people in the stands who seem to think they know how to officiate better than the ones on the court, but none of them will take time to become an official.”
Moundsville native Ray Marling has been an OVAC wrestling official for 32 years and is the vice president of the OVAC wrestling association. He has officiated the WVSSAC state wrestling tourney for 25 years and has seen just about everything you could possibly could see.
“If I could give any advice to a new referee is to stay with it. It’s worth it, ride it out,” said Marling. “It’s not easy being a referee, you will take a lot of criticism from coaches and fans, but the only thing that maters is getting it right, knowing you did your very best, and its for the KIDS. Recruiting officials is hard,” added Marling. “You don’t have to be a great wrestler to be an official.”
When recruiting, most of the ways they get new officials is by word of mouth, ads in newspapers and on-line solicitation. Bob Fox is another umpire that has seen a lot of baseball in his day. He mentioned that most of the guys that leave the baseball umpiring is the coaches.
The OVAC in the New Martinsville area has only about 13-15 umpires, and Fox stresses that the younger guys just don’t want to get involved. “The new guys often get discouraged. The coaching turnover is bad, and not all the newer coaches are teachers. They are, just guys out there trying to keep the sport going at the schools. Many of the people don’t have the interest in umpiring, they don’t want to put in the time necessary to become an official and to do what it takes to stay an official,” added Fox.
In our area, the mid-Ohio Valley Officials out of St. Marys cover our area high schools except for River in softball. Terry Nichols is the assigner. He takes care of 21 schools and use 18-20 umpires in any given week. Softball games usually throw out the first pitch say around 4:30-5 p.m., with most officials working regular jobs its hard to get guys to a game in time, let alone be there at least a half hour at the latest to check equipment and go over pre-game items that are required.
Yet these dedicated men and women they have are at the game-site sometimes at the last moment after traveling hours to get to their game in time.
“Most of our umpires work 3-6 nights a week depending on experience and work availability,” said Nichols. Nichols mentioned how the WVSSAC could help get new officials and
how they could help keep them for longer. “If the WVSSAC would have officiating and umpire classes put back in colleges, where the young adults would have the time to take the classes required to officiate, it would help out a lot in recruiting new people,” stated Nichols.
To become an official, you must belong to a local board to be able to officiate any sport. You MUST attend a WVSSAC sponsored Rules Clinic in the sport for which is registered. MUST attend a minimum of four local board meetings and take a Part I and a Part 2 exam. To stay active you also must turn in game reports and pay board and state fees. New officials MUST take a class, pass a test and have a physical.
College courses must be taught by a WVSSAC registered official Adult Education Program, and in most cases you still must attend a training class with your local board too.
Cost of being an official is $35 to be a track and swim referee; $39 for softball, soccer and baseball; $45 for wrestling, football, and basketball; and tennis is free. Board dues are different and usually run from $25 to $40.
However, we must do something about the lack officials in the lower leagues. The high school games get first dibs on games and its our lower level games are the ones not getting the officials. Just this last several weeks, there were no officials available for a New Martinsville middle school game, and the game had to be postponed, along with a couple of MHS boys freshman games.
I know I brought up some bad things about the cost, the times and stress, but there are some good things too, including the fact that we are doing it for the kids. You don’t get rich being an official, but there are a few perks – the camaraderie you have with your fellow officials, staying involved in a sport, and the sense of purpose and teamwork. Plus all the places you see, and the enjoyment that officiating offers cannot and should not be dismissed. It also helps keep you in the sport and helps keep you active, physically.
In most cases there is room for advancement, and there are some from our area that are now doing college and some others with some experience in the PROS. It is a wonderful avocation.
Recruitment, recruitment and more recruitment is necessary to be able to keep the local sports afloat. The high school and middle school sports are in trouble, and we must give back if we can.
Recruitment will require continuing exposure to the needs, letting interested folks know who to contact to become involved, and focus on the positives provided. If we could each attract just one person from every school in the OVAC and Mid Ohio Valley, we would never need to be concerned about the shortage of officials.
If you would like to become a registered official contact some of the people that I have mentioned or call me at work or email me at Bcrawford@wetzelchronicle.com. and I will get a hold of someone in that sport.