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Schools Face Referee Shortages
Games rescheduled as efforts are made to recruit officials
- File photo by Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
High school activities directors are facing an increasingly difficult scheduling reality: Sometimes there are more games in the Flathead Valley than there are referees to work at those games.

For the past several years, referee shortages have been a persistent concern in football and basketball, and activities directors say the problem is seeping into other sports such as soccer, softball and wrestling.

With many of the area’s longtime referees gearing up for retirement, there is widespread worry that there aren’t enough young referees signing up to replace them. In other words, the problem doesn’t seem to be going away and may even be growing more concerning.

“Officiating in general is in decline,” Todd Fiske of the Flathead Valley Basketball Officials Association said. “It’s in despair, really, in terms of getting viable candidates that treat it as an avocation for the long term.”

“I know it’s statewide,” he added, “and I would venture to say it’s nationwide.”

Earlier this fall, Whitefish High School was forced to move a Friday night football game against Browning to Saturday because there were too many games scheduled that night and not enough referees.

“There are so many schools in the valley and they’re all using the same pool of officials and scheduling games on the same day,” Whitefish Activities Director Jackie Fuller said. “Could we use more officials? You bet we could. The officials we have are great and it would be wonderful to have more people brought into the pool to help them out.”

John Thompson, Columba Falls High School’s activities director, said one weekend he had to reschedule varsity soccer games for boys and girls “because there weren’t enough refs to go around.” And for the school’s first home football game, Thompson had to bring in a group of Helena referees.

“You have to pay additional mileage,” Thompson said. “It can be pretty expensive.”

Thompson said individual schools and the Montana High School Association, along with refereeing organizations like Fiske’s, make efforts to recruit new referees. But it can be a hard sell – a lot of verbal abuse and not much pay.

“It takes a special person that wants to officiate,” Thompson said. “Thick skin, understands the rules, knows how to apply the rules, loves the game. It’s not for everybody and that’s the dilemma.”

Even when new recruits sign up, it takes awhile for them to learn the ropes and become qualified for varsity games and high-profile events. Some don’t make it that far.

“A lot of officials don’t make it past two, three, four years,” Fiske said. “They say, ‘They don’t pay me enough to get beat up verbally.’”

“If they live through those first three, four years, they tend to be hooked,” he added.

Fiske’s organization is hosting a free weekly clinic focused on beginning referees to address these concerns. The clinic will be held on Mondays beginning Oct. 3 at West Valley School from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“We have a lot of apprentices that we’re pushing toward this clinic,” Fiske said. “It’s easy to be overwhelmed right off the bat officiating. This will help with that.”

For more information on the clinic, call Fiske at (406) 253-7980.
On 09-26-11, blood gulch commented....
there are too many psychotic parents that take their frustrations out on referee’s. I personally was yelled at by parents at a baseball game for 9 year olds in little league. I stepped in to umpire, because there wasn’t anyone there that knew how. I have thick and didn’t really…
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