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A referee shortage?

by IAN BIVONA
Sports Reporter | August 16, 2022 1:25 AM

COLUMBIA BASIN — The Columbia Basin Football Officials Association is in search of officials for the upcoming school year, to help with refereeing the different sports offered to student-athletes.

“We’re looking for anyone who’s willing to step out on the field and try to officiate games for us,” President of the Washington Officials Association Football Association Jeremy Cranston said. “We cover 12 schools, from Lake Roosevelt to Mattawa.”

The WOA, which oversees and serves as a union-like entity for referee associations across the state, looks for those interested in refereeing, especially for football right now.

“If you have any interest in football,” WOA Assigning Secretary Mike Mortimore said of what they look for. “We have a big spectrum of people who are with us – we have some young kids who just came out of high school and a lot of older guys.”

Mortimore added that with a significant number of the referees being older, they are preparing for them to retire in the near future.

“A lot of older generation are ready to retire or are retiring,” he said. “It’s harder to get this younger generation involved.”

With a decrease in referee numbers over the years, the worry of having to cancel games became more of a reality in recent years.

“What’s so important about us recruiting and getting more people involved is we were getting to the point where we were having to cancel games,” Mortimore said. “We all do this for the student-athletes, giving back to them and making sure that they have the same experience we had.”

The low numbers also meant that games had to be rescheduled as well.

“When we’re so short like that, we can’t cover every game,” Mortimore said. “We were juggling games around, moving Friday night games to Thursday night, to Saturdays. That’s a huge tradition for football, having games on Friday night. And I can’t reach out to Tri-Cities or Spokane, because they’re in the same boat we are.”

When Cranston began with the WOA there were around 45 members involved in the Columbia Basin, and with the pandemic bringing in early retirements they were down to “17 or 18” during the pandemic.

“Now we’re back up to around 24 or 25,” Cranston said. “We’re trying to build those numbers again. COVID kind of took some of our older guys who were thinking about, in the next 3-5 years they were going to be kind of weaning themselves out, and retiring.”

When a new member joins the WOA they are paired with a veteran crew and go through training to get a grasp of what they may see out on the field.

“Right now we’re having meetings to address training and prepare them,” Cranston said. “Rule interpretation, mechanics on the field, what are your responsibilities. A lot of it ends up falling on the veteran guys when you’re out on the field, actually at the game.”

Those new to refereeing typically will not have the responsibility of being the head referee, Cranston said.

“Most of our first years will start out as what we call wings,” he said, “There’s a linesman and line judge on each sideline. That’s generally where most guys start out.”

Mortimore said that those who work in high-stress environments usually stand out as referees.

“Reffing is great for, I guess what you call, police officers, EMT’s, firefighters and stuff like that,” Mortimore said. “People who are in high-stress jobs, they come in here and do awesome.”

While Cranston and Mortimore represent the football association, they also represent referees in other high school sports and said that overall referee numbers are down.

“Everybody’s down,” Cranston said of the state of referee involvement. “It’s not just (football).”

The officials association recently changed their pay process as well, allowing referees to be paid faster.

“We’ve increased our pay a little bit,” Mortimore said, “and now we pay - within 48 hours of you reffing a game, you get paid. It’s not like a one lump sum at the end of the year or anything, you’re getting money in your bank account.”

Those interested in becoming referees can go through the WOA’s contact sheet, available at www.washingtonofficials.com. From there they can select which sports they are interested in, choosing up to three. Those selected can also select the schedule they desire to work for games.

“I think the biggest thing for a lot of our officials is we’re giving back,” Mortimore said. “We’re giving back to something we love, we did this in high school, some did this in college. Anybody who just loves to watch the sport, has never played it before, can come in and ref easily.”

Ian Bivona may be reached at ibivona@columbiabasinherald.com. You can see more local sports coverage by downloading the Columbia Basin Herald app, which is available on Android and iOS devices.

photo

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/COLUMBIA BASIN FOOTBALL OFFICIALS ASSOCIATION

Along with football, the Washington Officials Association is seeking officials for other sports in an effort to support area student-athletes.

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