INDIANAPOLIS–The Indiana High School Athletic Association says they are trying to create a more welcoming environment for high school referees in Indiana.
In 2015-16, the number of referees in Indiana went up by 43. Every year up to 2021-22, it dropped by more than 1,000 referees. There was a slight increase for the 2022-23 high school sports season, but IHSAA Commissioner Paul Niedig wants to do all he can to keep that number trending in the right direction.
“Officials are so important because every parent that wants to watch their kid play on Friday night doesn’t get to do that without an official that’s willing to spend their time in the eye of the public often with criticism to officiate a game that we all love, so we need to get out their and support officials,” said Niedig.
Niedig says it’s important to remember that officials are human beings and will make mistakes just like parents and coaches. You can sign up to be an official if you’re interested.
“It’s a very simple process to get started. You go to ihsaa.org and click on ‘Become an Official.’ It’s really minimal, but we want to make sure that we’ve got quality people that want to become officials. We do a background check to make sure we don’t have a felon or anything like that. Then you receive a rule book and take a test on that sport to make sure that you know the basic rules,” said Niedig.
The pay for IHSAA referees has also increased.
“We increased the mileage they get to travel for tournament contests and then we increased the fee they get to officiate the game. We’ll never be able to pay enough to make it a full-time vocation for somebody, but we want to make sure that they are getting a little pocket money so they can do things with their family and they’re not operating at a loss,” said Niedig.
The IHSAA is working with an organization called RefReps, which offers comprehensive online officiating education courses that include an interactive training video, instructor guides, assessments, and more.
Kyle Armstrong is the founder and CEO of RefReps. He says the average age of a referee is 54 years old. Plus, COVID made the referee shortage worse.
“The two years following COVID, we saw a big drop. Many officials paused during COVID and then never returned. We are beginning to see an increased number of officials, but we must continue to get the next generation of officials started,” said Lewis. “There is a myriad of reasons for the official shortage across the country,” said Armstrong.
Armstrong says egregious behavior from fans and parents has not helped.
“We come out of that (COVID), and sportsmanship, egregious behavior has just been off the charts. We are seeing it more in the travel world, and in the AAU world, but it’s starting to sneak into education-based athletics. Officials, prefer to officiate in an education-based system because we have administrators and staff who can control that atmosphere a little bit,” said Armstrong.
Armstrong says RefReps’ mission is to educate the next generation of high school sports officials.
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