The shortage of officials continues to be a challenge across the country. Games end up starting late or being rescheduled or, unfortunately, even cancelled. There are many creative strategies to increase the number of officials and sometimes the simplest way is to embark on a new endeavor with a friend.
Jared Butson, a seasoned official of 24 years, is the secretary/treasurer of the Rochester Area Officials Association (RAOA) in southern Minnesota. When he started as a college student at St. Cloud State University, everyone was in the same boat – a room full of college students looking for some extra cash.
Butson did not begin his venture into officiating with a “buddy,” however, the network of friends in the industry took hold soon after joining. Today, almost 25 years later, some of his closest friends are other officials and their spouses and families.
Butson, who has been part of the RAOA for many years, takes time to speak to schools about sportsmanship, refereeing and parental involvement and is eager to encourage more people to become officials.
In the RAOA, each new official, regardless of sport, is assigned a mentor (a veteran official), and the mentor/mentee relationship is started. The association offers ideas to both the mentors and mentees on how the relationship can grow and how both can benefit from it. The basic premise is that communication, whether it be phone, in-person, text or email, must be at the forefront.
The requirements by the Minnesota State High School League and the training program by the RAOA varies by sport. Following are some of the guidelines developed by the RAOA.
Applicants with no prior varsity-level experience must work a specified number of games as assistants before final acceptance into the association. The number of games is as follows:
Starting out in the avocation of officiating with a friend is a great idea, especially going through many observations by veteran officials. It is always good to discuss struggles or to just debrief about the games when you get home. The hope of officiating with a friend will not become a reality until both individuals are “seasoned” referees. This allows for individuals to learn and become confident officials.
The best way to get officials ready for varsity contests is to pair them with a veteran. Any new official above the junior high level would partner with someone who had a few years of experience to help ease the new official in and to treat the experience as more of a “training session.”
It is difficult with two new officials or “buddies” to get in a quality “training session” while working the game. Butson said the best way to train officials is to have observers who are not officiating the contest take notes, videotape the game and then sit down with a veteran to evaluate. Classroom sessions are also effective.
Starting something new is always more fun with friends as a means of support. Butson suggests that instead of going out on a Friday night, get some exercise by officiating and meet up after the game. You stay healthy, you get paid and best of all, and student- athletes get to play their games.
Lisa Myran-Schutte, CAA, is activities director at Houston High School in Houston, Minnesota. She is a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.