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Officials association struggles with referee shortage

Published: Feb. 18, 2021 at 4:48 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Parents, players and coaches are all thankful that high school winter contact sports are back here in mid-Michigan. But if it weren’t for the referees in the area a lot of these games might not happen.

It’s no secret that it’s been hard to find officials for any sport here in the state of Michigan. Throw the coronavirus pandemic on top and that search gets a lot more difficult.

Vice President of the Capital Area Officials Association Rob Stanaway said, “In a typical year we have about 200 officials. This year we’re down to about 150. So we’ve lost about 25 percent of the officials.”

As if it couldn’t get worse, Stanaway says they have to officiate games during a condensed season.

“Previous years we’d have two games per week, now they’re playing three,” Stanaway said. “That increases the amount of games we have to cover in a shorter period of time with fewer officials.”

Athletic directors say it’s hard working with the Capital Area Officials Association to get more referees for their games on a given night. Scott Casteele, Waverly’s athletic director, explained why these are difficult employees to replace.

“It isn’t easy, and it’s not for everyone,” Casteele said. “It’s a nice payday for the officials, but not a lot of legs left at the end of those days. And our population is getting older so that doesn’t make it any easier.”

Casteele added, “The average age for a basketball official in the state of Michigan is about 55 years old. So when you start adding up them doing two games a night three times a week, and they’re sacrificing time with their family and their jobs, it can be very challenging for them.”

To make matters worse, officials with less experience can’t meet with mentors to hone their skills and learn the game.

Stanaway said, “We’re just not able to get the amount of training for them that they really need.”

Stanaway hopes they’ll get more referees once the pandemic ends, but for now he says they’ll have to keep filling games as much as they can.

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