COLUMN: Official shortages hindering local high school sports. What to do about it?

The most authentic form of athletics is being jeopardized because of game official shortages.

High school sporting events have been hit hard around the Butler County area, and it’s seemingly getting worse.

If it’s an ongoing issue in these parts, there’s a high certainty it’s happening across the state of Ohio. 

The Monroe boys soccer game against Miamisburg was canceled this past weekend, as was Hamilton boys soccer against Sycamore and Fairfield girls soccer against Middletown on Tuesday — all due to the shortage.

No referees. No games.

There have been other contests that have fallen victim — I’m sure of it — which results in a rescheduling headache for athletic directors.

Eric Silverman, Monroe’s athletic director, posted a Tweet late Tuesday night that should be seen on everyone’s Twitter timeline.

If you didn’t catch it, here it is:

“Schools can coordinate Ticket Takers, Announcers, Clock Operators, Athletic Trainers, Concession Stand Workers and Ball Boys/Girls but without Officials our Student-Athletes can’t play!”

He’s simply stating the truth — the scary truth.

But to fix a problem like this, the problem must be identified. Right?

So, what exactly is causing the shortage in officials?

Many will blame Covid. Many will blame unruly behavior toward officials, including assaults.

In a letter sent out in 2019 by the National Federation of State High School Associations and the Ohio High School Athletic Association, more than 75 percent of all high school officials say “adult behavior” is the primary reason they quit, according to a survey. And 80 percent of all young officials hang up their stripes after just two years of whistleblowing.

This tells you the issue hasn’t been a recent one.

Furthermore, what can be done?

Silverman chimed in.

“The fact of the matter is we need more officials and on its current trajectory the problem is going to get worse before it gets better,” he said. “At Monroe High School, we’re encouraging our students to get involved by offering a Sports Officiating Course through our Physical Education Department that allows students to complete the coursework needed to become a licensed official.”

Added Fairfield athletic director Aaron Blankenship, “For those of us with a vested interest in interscholastic athletics, we’re going to have to work together to find a solution.”

Hamilton athletic director Missy Harvey said the boys soccer team is expected to play three games in six days at the end of the season due to rescheduling from lack of officials.

There are a couple games where just one official is assigned.

“That’s not ideal, because games tend to get more physical,” Harvey said. “The officials can only see so many things on such a large playing area.

“Our soccer teams just want to play, as do all the other teams,” Harvey added. “The impact this year has been tough, and if we don’t get more officials, it will only be worse next year because every year we lose a few to retirement and other endeavors.”

“I think I speak for a lot of local Athletic Directors, when I say we are very concerned about the shortage in officials that we are experiencing,” Blankenship noted. “We are seeing this primarily in soccer right now, but this problem is growing in other sports as well.”

Since covering high school athletics in the Butler County area for over 20 years, I’ve never really considered grabbing a whistle — until now.

But for the time being, I’ll help spread the word on how you can become a high school athletics official in this area.

The OHSAA has taken steps to eliminate the referee shortage by moving their classroom instruction online to a platform called RefReps. You can check out the RefReps website

And you can start the process to become an official here

These hardworking student-athletes, coaches and prep sports programs need you.

They need you now.

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