Athletes, coaches and fans have all been counting down the days to the start of fall sports.
These games wouldn’t be possible without some very important people…officials — but they’re difficult to find.
“I got a call from a school wanting to add a game and I had to say, ‘I don’t have officials.’ So, instead of playing at home, now they’re playing on the road,” said Brent Engebretson.
Engebretson has been officiating for the last 33 years.
He says in all his years, the demand has slowly been building.
“We’re taking everybody and anybody we can get. We just constantly try to replace and renew. We get college kids and then they move away. We get some guys in their mid-20s and they find a new career and they move away. It’s always a hard thing in the fall to start,” said Engebretson.
The lack has led to fewer officiating crews at games.
What is a five-person job now only has four because of availability.
And for sports like baseball, they’re having to make do with just one.
“Leads to a lot of calls that nobody is quite sure what happened at second base because you’re behind the plate,” said Engebretson.
The shortage has also changed the way athletic directors have to schedule games.
“They used to just pick a date and then call us. Now, they call us first and see if there’s officials available for those dates,” he said.
There are solutions out there to accommodate the shortage, like having athletic directors pay mileage to have crews at games.
They can also schedule games for Thursdays or Saturdays or have two in one day — but those aren’t ideal.
“We’re all out there doing the best that we can every night that we can. So if you think you can do better, please come join us. We’ll take you, we’ll teach you and get you on the field every Friday night. And I think that’s one detractor to football is that you’re committing to every Friday night so you never get to watch a game. You’re always officiating,” said Engebretson.
Engebretson says participation numbers are going down too, which has a ripple effect for the future — decreasing the pool of potential officials.
But for those athletes who are in the game…
“In the last two years, I’ve been thanked more than ever for officiating their sport. It doesn’t matter what sport it was, ‘Thanks for coming out. Thanks for being here,'” said Engebretson.
He adds that you are compensated for officiating and you’ll receive plenty of training.
To become an official, contact your local school administration or click here.