Minnesota youth, amateur sports desperately need referees

Every youth or amateur sport in Minnesota is having trouble finding people to referee or officiate games.

The referee shortage existed before the pandemic, but because unemployment is so low and there are a lot of job options these days, the shortage hasn’t improved. But as children are about to head back to school, leagues are trying to get more people involved.

"It's noticeable across all sports, across all levels for sure," said Karah Lodge, associate director of the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission. "In 2019, there was obviously a huge decline, and we haven’t seen the bounce-back after COVID-19 yet."

The commission is hoping to attract more officials. It has gathered several leagues together under the name Play Together MN and they’ve held three recruitment events this year, including an "Officiating Expo" at TCO Stadium in Eagan on Monday.

So what happens if a league can't get enough referees? It depends on the sport, but sometimes games have to be rescheduled or canceled, which did happen last year.

The statewide shortage has been escalated, in part, by violent behavior from parents and coaches, but leagues told FOX 9 they’re working to educate parents and address these incidents as they happen.

(FOX 9)

Assante Kelton is about to start his third year as a high school basketball referee, and he said he’s had extremely positive experiences working as a mentor. He went to the expo, hoping to get even more involved, this time as a volleyball referee.

"You know a lot more than anybody else in the gym as an official, so oftentimes you have the kids come up to you for advice and you can give them that and help them advance and help them move up a little bit quicker," Kelton said.

He even brought his teenage son to the event so his son can become a referee, as well.

The pay is typically between $25 and $75 a game, and there are other benefits, too.

"You can be involved in a sport, it's fun, it's flexible hours, you can pretty much call whatever hours you want to work or how many hours you want to work a week or month," said Pat Colbert, the assistant executive director in charge of special projects for USTA Northern.

For some sports, particularly soccer, the shortage is more severe.

Let's take tennis, for example. Colbert said USTA Northern has about 30 officials they can currently call on, but they'd like 60.

"Knowledge of tennis is great. If not, we'll train you, and that's the beauty of it," Colbert said.

Anyone who is interested in officiating for baseball, basketball, football, figure skating, gymnastics, hockey, lacrosse, municipal sports, soccer and futsal, softball, swimming & diving or tennis can find more information by clicking here.