Across the country, civil servants quit their jobs for a variety of reasons. Once COVID hit, the nation began to see a drop in the number of officials in every sport.
In the Alabama High School Athletic Association, they are seeing a severe shortage of officials in all counties.
Ken Washington, AHSAA’s director of officials, is dealing with declining membership.
“It started with COVID,” Washington said. “A lot of our officials have decided not to come back. They were very involved and enjoyed it, but during COVID some of them realized they kept coming back. They just decided to spend time with family and things of that nature.
There are many reasons officials leave, and one of them is the fans.
“Some of the officials don’t officiate because of the fan base,” Washington said. “It’s a big problem these days. The parents follow the officials to their cars. In a church league last year, a basketball official was jumped by adults and children during church league. We need to better protect humans. They are human beings.
As the football season approached, the shortage of officials forced AHSAA to change the way it distributes officials.
“We’re looking at experimenting with district assignments,” Washington said. “Officials from different districts will have to travel more, but it gives us more choice to make sure we cover those games. Last year we had to move games to Thursdays and Saturdays due to the shortage. We are proactive in trying to recruit officials.
The problem with recruiting new officials is that it takes them a few years to learn and adapt to officiating.
“Some of them are being forced into situations they’re not even ready for, but what do you do?” Washington said. “You must have that official there. We don’t want to put people in that situation. We want to give each school the opportunity to fairly win a competition in accordance with the rules that govern us. »
Since 2020, AHSAA has seen a drastic decrease in the number of officials in all sports. During this period, AHSAA lost an average of 16.7% of its officials per sport. The losses are as follows for each sport: 18.6% (baseball), 19.1% (basketball), 6.1% (football). 17.3% (softball), 23.1% (soccer), 17.1% (track), 15.9% (volleyball) and 16.2% (wrestling).
“Without these officials, we cannot have a contest,” Washington said.
AHSAA charges $60 to register as an official, but that covers injuries on the job, among other things.
AHSAA is also going through a change that involves the age of officials.
“Officiating is one of those things that gives us an opportunity to stay connected to the game,” Washington said. “You have to have a passion and a love for it. It’s something where you like it or you don’t like it. If you’re not sure you like it and need to hear it from the fans, then that’s where we lose them. We just have to find a way to keep them here. Studies say that if you can keep a public servant for five to ten years, they are likely to stick around.
Mark Hudmon, the athletic director of Valley Parks and Recreation, is having similar issues with his officials.
“If you’ve ever umpired, the first thing you learn is you can’t have bunny ears,” Hudmon said. “It’s hearing everything around you, and you have to block that out. If you hear that, it’s gonna be a long night for you. We have parents who are great, but we have parents who agitate everything and officials who harass. I’ve seen it get under their skin, especially with the younger guys because they don’t know how to deal with it.
Valley Parks and Recreation hasn’t seen as large a drop in staff numbers as AHSAA, but some of the heckling has been too much.
“We had a guy who walked off the softball field one night,” Hudmon said. “They joke around a bit, but he didn’t know how to take it. We had officials who did not return because of this.
Part of the problem at Valley is that the officials are not properly trained.
“I saw referees who weren’t even close to being ready to come onto the pitch, and we asked them not to come back,” Hudmon said. “Some could do it, but they were a little nonchalant.”
Chambers Academy may be part of AISA, but they still deal with this issue.
“They encourage us to play on Thursdays, and that helps,” Chambers Academy head coach Jason Allen said. “There has been a shortage of civil servants for the past four or five years.”
Allen also noticed that officials faced verbal abuse within AISA.
“Our society has kind of changed,” Allen said. “People have become more emboldened by their opinions on social media. They feel like there are no consequences for their actions. Most people understand that these guys are trying to do the best they can. I haven’t seen anything cross the line, but I have seen verbal abuse. A lot of officials are fed up with that.