WEST VIRGINIA (WOWK) — Fewer referees are officiating games in the Mountain State, and that’s creating problems for high school sports.
The pandemic has negatively impacted numbers, but West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission (WVSSAC) Executive Director Bernie Dolan says it’s unruly behavior from fans in the stands that are pushing officials away from the field.
“Much of the problem is fan behavior and the abuse that officials take,” he said. “For whatever reason, people think that they have paid their money for the ticket and they get to say whatever they want.”
South Charleston Head Football Coach Donnie Mays says fans need to understand that officials aren’t perfect.
“We’re human, they’re human. They’re going to make mistakes, we’re going to make mistakes,” Mays said. “I think fans probably need to recognize things like that. That could be their kid out there one day.”
The WVSSAC currently has 526 referees in their pool. Football state Clinician Larry McCloy says that number is usually above 600. With less officials in their pool, the league is pushing hard to recruit high school and college athletes that just graduated.
“In order for that sport to continue, we need officials,” Dolan said. “We’re trying to attract people who are just leaving the field or the court and giving them an opportunity to stay on.”
The shortage has impacted scheduling, moving football games normally on Friday night, to Monday’s or Tuesday’s.
“Being called to work on Monday’s and Tuesday’s and their work schedule may not allow that, that puts a stress on the existing crew,” McCloy said.
McCloy’s pitch to future referees are that memories created on the field last for a lifetime.
“A lot of these guys, officiating is their livelihood,” he said. “The memories that they’ve made and the friendships they’ve made off the field. To me, that’s what officiating is all about.”
McCloy says the league is running a program where current referees meet with coaches and players to go over new rule changes.
Dolan says if anyone is interested in becoming an official to contact their league office.