MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - High school sports are well underway in Minnesota, but you might have noticed there are fewer men and women in stripes. There is a referee shortage plaguing the state.
There have certainly been some cancellations due to the ref shortage. Not necessarily, the varsity contests, but definitely lower levels of competition. In fact, athletic directors everywhere are getting creative with this issue sometime employing coaches, teachers, or parents to step in and pick up a whistle.
"If I look at the 27 years I've been doing this job, it's become much, much more difficult now," said Rosemount High School Athletic Director Michael Manning.
One of those issues making the job more challenging these days for Manning is finding enough referees to officiate for the school’s 33 sports. Manning believes soccer is perhaps, the most challenging.
"We've had to move games," said Manning. "We've doubled them up here on a given night. We've had to not only cancel just a couple of them, but we have our coaches end up officiating a number of times during the season."
We visited both home varsity and JV matches Wednesday afternoon. The state high school league acknowledges, the referee and official shortage is a problem, particularly at the sub-varsity level, probably no surprise given the pay and sometimes-abusive behavior from fans in the stands, even poor sportsmanship from the sidelines.
The league is actively recruiting those interested in giving officiating a go, reaching out to high school, college students, parents and sports enthusiasts with retention particularly after three years a significant point of emphasis.
"The unsporting behavior is a major issue not only here in the state of Minnesota, but also from coast to coast," said Tim Leighton. "It's a national problem. The unsporting behavior is one of the reasons that an official may choose to leave the avocation."
And that three-year mark is critical because by that point an official would have really seen the highs and lows of officiating.
Abuse plays a role in the shortage of refs
The Minnesota State High School League hosted an online forum on Wednesday night to recruit new referees and umpires for high school sporting events, amid a nationwide shortage.
Spokesperson Tim Leighton admits the organization has lost some of it workers, in part, because of an increase in abuse directed towards them by fans.
"I would say over the last two or three years there has been an increase in reports [of abuse] to the league," Leighton said. "These unsporty behaviors, that’s one of perhaps a handful of reasons why an official doesn’t continue."
Dawson Blanck is the executive director of Minnesota Youth Athletic Services, and he adds to his resume 21 years of experience as a basketball referee. In the last couple of years, Blanck says the amount of disrespect from fans has definitely increased, "People really don’t think that anything is going to happen to them. We all need to come together to really let people know that ‘hey, this is not tolerated at these events,’" Blanck said. "And if they do not behave they’re going to be gone, or there is going to be a consequence for their actions."
Leighton says the MSHSL is actively listening to feedback from students and administrators, while taking an education-first approach.
"It’s all about educating, educating our members schools, educating our participants," Leighton finished.