From Dawson's Desk: The Officiating Crisis is Real
I started officiating in 1997, when I was in college to make some money and stay connected to the sports I love, and I haven't stopped since.
It's been one of the best ways for me to support youth sports, which is why I haven't stopped officiating the game of basketball.
But we're at a crisis point — and all of us adults need to do better.
One of my top highlights was officiating a Class AAA MSHSL state championship game at Williams Arena in 2019. A friend recently asked if I was nervous, but I told him that I instinctively tuned out all the fans, just as I did when I was a student-athlete myself, and I focused on doing my job to the best of my ability. But even now, with all my experience, I dread when that one person in the stands — no matter what is happening on the court and how many correct calls you make — just rails against you and nitpicks every call. You hear his or her voice, no matter how many fans are there in the stands.
Like any crisis, there isn't just one problem, so I want to highlight a few in this post and dig deeper into each in the next post.
- Negative attitude toward officials — Referees and officials can't lean on their experience or reputation these days and — just like the newest and youngest —must prove him or herself every single time. That is, in part, because many people come into a game with the expectation that, "These officials are going to be terrible tonight."
- More officials and mentors needed — There was a natural progression when I first started officiating. You started refereeing youth sports, then you worked your way up to high school and, if you were very good, to college. But those who rose through the ranks often still officiated events and games for the elementary and middle school aged athletes.
- Tournament and game organizers can't oversee and train — When youth sports returned after the lockdown in spring of 2020, there was an appreciation that kids could get back on the court and fields and play again. There were less confrontations and issues with officials and others, partly because there were fewer people even allowed to watch a game. I am not sure exactly when but those positive feelings didn't last long. Now assigners are busier than ever, scrambling to get events and games organized. And with a shortage of officials, that task has become so much harder. That leaves them no time to monitor interactions around officials. And everyone is so busy, no one has time to help educate and encourage the referees who are working.
In the next post, I'll go deeper into these three challenges. But rest assured, we've taken a big step toward improving and resolving these challenges by adding Tony Schrepfer as our director of officiating and Carolyn Derksen as our assistant director. Both bring not only experience to our organization but also passion.