Guido: Is referee shortage on horizon?
While the Alle-Kiski Valley has been blessed with some outstanding game officials over the years, like hall of famers Red Mihalik, Tom Stabile, Dom Corso and many others, there are problems looming.
Many have recently retired and others would like to hang up their whistles. But there aren’t enough young referees coming up through the ranks, and high school sports could have some real problems soon.
Let’s take the A-K Officials Association for football. There are 48 members. One man is 26, another is in his 30s, but 46 of the 48 are over the age of 40.
Scheduling officials for games is getting tougher and tougher.
“As people retire, the ranks aren’t being replenished,” said Mike Jarosinski, 58, of Buffalo Township, who’s been working football and basketball games for 40 years. “The next generation of guys aren’t available, and in about five to seven years, it could really be a problem.”
On a Friday night in the fall, there might be 60 games in the WPIAL and City League. That means you’d need 360 officials to staff the games.
On Dec. 4, there were 138 boys and girls basketball games hosted by WPIAL schools. That means 414 officials were needed that night.
To get started, a candidate would have to get an application from the PIAA website and certification tests are given three times a year at Keystone Oaks High School in Dormont.
“We usually start out a guy in the pee wee leagues and junior high and junior varsity,” Jarosinski said. “Someone can make $60 at a junior varsity game, $150 doing a day of youth league games. Then, we can move him up to varsity.”
Therein lies another problem. A lot of younger guys aren’t willing to pay their dues and be patient. They want assigned to the likes of a Central Catholic-North Allegheny game right away.
Also, all officials will need their Act 34, Act 114 and Act 151 background checks by June 30 or they can no longer officiate.
Assigning older referees doesn’t appear to be a problem right now.
“An official can be productive well into his 50s. I don’t have a problem as long as he is fit,” said Bill Sinning, PIAA male officials rep on the WPIAL Board of Control. “I realize the older refs are going away. If there’s going to be a problem in a few years, I think you’ll see it first at the junior high and junior varsity levels. That’ll be an indication of soon having problems on the varsity level.”
If a shortage occurs, options are limited.
In PIAA District 10, which stretches from Slippery Rock to Erie, there was a shortage of football officials a few years ago.
The district asked schools to schedule one home game a year on a Saturday night instead of Friday to spread out the available pool of officials.
After several years, the numbers went back up and schools went back to their Friday nights.
Would the WPIAL have to do that someday?
Asking some of the tradition-laden WPIAL schools to switch to Saturday nights would be tantamount to heresy.
Jarosinski is actively recruiting new referees and umpires and will be getting informational brochures printed.
Sinning is willing to go on the road and administer tests if at least eight to 10 candidates are available.
“I went out to Monroeville last year and administered baseball tests to about 15 or 16 candidates and I’ve been to Cal U for soccer,” Sinning said. “I know Keystone Oaks isn’t convenient to everybody, but I will routinely go out and give tests as long as they have enough people.”
Jarosinski has seen some who start out and decide the berating by coaches and fans isn’t their cup of tea and hopes, however, that a new generation will step into the void.
“I’ve been places and met some great people because of officiating,” he said. “I love it. It’s been good to me. I wish I was 25 again.”
George Guido is a Valley News Dispatch scholastic sports correspondent. His column appears Wednesdays.