Regional Officiating: A shortage of officials is one problem facing athletics, and it’s a situation an individual can improve
It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with high school athletics that there is a shortage of officials. It is estimated that the average age of a referee, umpire or official is 56-years-old and some say that number is rising.
Michigan High School Athletic Association official assigner Bob Czech said there are a number of reasons for the decrease in the number of new people entering this particular workforce.
One is a change in demographics. Czech said that there was a time when teachers would represent the majority of officials. He said that of the approximately 450 officials he assigns, 20 percent are teachers.
The questions presented to people like Czech is, where and how do you find people who want to officiate?
The best candidates would appear to be those who were active in high school sports and perhaps even college. These people are familiar with sports, especially those they competed in, and are comfortable being around other athletes and the games themselves.
Take Andrew Hayner for example. His father, Paul Hayner, played sports in high school (Detroit St. Ambrose) and later in college (Michigan State). Andrew was around sports all of his life. He competed in track and field, and football at U-D Jesuit and ran track throughout college at Detroit Mercy. His father has been, and still is, an official in Metro Detroit and Andrew has been officiating for three years in football and basketball, and is an umpire for baseball.
Fortunately his fulltime job allows him the freedom to do what in essence is his hobby, one that also supplements his income.
“I like being on the court on a Friday night,” he said. “I like being there to make the big call. After playing sports, you have to suppress that excitement a little. You don’t want to anticipate a call. With coaches, if you miss a call, the next time you go down court it’s forgotten. You don’t want to do a make-up call. That’s when (coaches) will get on you.”
Sports, whether watching or participating, is meant to be fun, especially at the high school level. Some take it more seriously than others and that’s when hostilities could occur. A coach, a parent or a fan might get caught up in the moment, react to an official’s call that goes against your team, or son or your daughter, and cross the line by using inflammatory language or worse.
Officials know that and the good ones let it go. If an official reacts to foul language directed his or her way it often makes matters worse.
“As an official, you have confrontations,” Hayner said. “Young people don’t want to put up with that for $60. It doesn’t always add up financially. A good coping mechanism is, not so much arrogance, but the fact that you know the rules.”
Just as a coach teaches fundamentals, officials are encouraged to attend clinics as often as possible to keep abreast of the current rules and any rule changes.
Czech assigns officials for four sports, baseball, basketball, football and softball. His association (Metro Detroit Officials Association) holds annual preseason rules meetings. For basketball and football there are bi-weekly meetings to discuss individual situations and update current issues.
Czech assigns officials for mainly three leagues, the Kensington Lakes Activities Association, Lakes Valley Conference and the Oakland Activities Association. He also serves the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) in Oakland County.
Recruiting new officials is becoming more difficult year after year and part of the reason is the abuse officials, especially new ones, receive while doing their job.
“Young people don’t want to deal with it,” he said. “Society has changed. There’s a lack of respect for officials.
“I go to athletic directors before the season and asked them if they know anyone that might be interested. Some stick with it. But even when, let’s say, 50 percent stay, they often get a fulltime job and there goes their free time.
“I go to schools before the season. I put a face on it. I go to the athletes and say if you think about being an official, call me.”
The MHSAA recently issued a release advocating the profession of being an official, in part, saying that an individual can become a role model by becoming an official and by doing so can become integrated in the community.
Individuals interested in learning more about becoming a high school official, and even beginning the application process, can do so at www.HighSchoolOfficials.com.
“I think I’m hooked,” Hayner said. “Someone said, if you can get by the first three years it gets easier. But it’s never easy. But if you have a love for it, it’s not work. I look forward to driving to a gym and doing a game. The way I look at it, I’m getting paid to do a hobby.”