Referee shortage already effecting season

James Clements, a former Watsonville High student athlete, is a part time referee in the area. (Juan Reyes — The Pajaronian)

The Apple City Jamboree got off to a rocky start last week as coaches and players eagerly waited around for the referee crew to show up.

As time went by, the men dressed in zebra stripes slowly started to arrive and the jamboree finally got underway.

This could be an ugly sign of things to come this season as the number of officials continues to fall year after year.

The Central Coast Section took a huge step backwards and went from 11 to just nine crews made up of five officials for the football season.

Tom Emery, president of Peninsula Sports and overseer of football officiating for the Pacific Coast Athletic League, said the average age for officials ranges from 40 to 60 years old.

“The problem is those officials retire, die or just have bad injuries are not being replaced by younger generations,” Emery said. “Pay is an issue, referee abuse and it’s a different mentality with the young generations...They’re just not used to a situation where they get yelled at.” 

Emery said the older generation of referees are slowly fading out and are out there because they feel like it’s an obligation to pay back for the experience they once had.

“They believe sports athletics is part of the educational process in the field in the gym or the largest classrooms in the school,” Emery said. “That mindset and that mentality is slowly dying out.”

The CCS has been trying to get current officials to recruit newcomers into Peninsula Sports and are giving out recruitment bonuses of $75.

A shortage of referees is already having an effect on some teams in the Pajaro Valley, especially for St. Francis High after it had two of its games — against Watsonville and today’s season opener versus King City — switched to Thursday.

Monte Vista Christian coach Jubenal Rodriguez said the referee shortage hardly had an effect on his team, so far. The Mustangs will host their only home game of the season on Friday night against Ann Sobrato.

After that, Mustangs Stadium will be under construction and the team will play its remaining home games — against The King’s Academy, Alisal and Seaside — on Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. at Watsonville High.

“I think that actually helped the situation if anything,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said he’d be willing to help with anything if he could because the sport of football is already under attack for multiple reasons.

“But to not be able to play it potentially in the future because of the lack of refs, that’s pretty scary,” Rodriguez said.

Pajaro Valley coach Kevin Cordova said it’s too early to tell how bad the situation is until the season officially begins. That’s when coaches start getting used to certain officiating crews.

“The good and the bad about not having a lot of crews is you usually get the same crew for a lot of your games, you get to know them,” Cordova said.

But the same can be said about coaches who might not get along with other officiating crews. Cordova added there’s also going to be a significant amount of young referees this year.

It’s typical for a more experienced officiating crew to wind up calling games in the bigger leagues, or in this case the divisions like the PCAL-Gabilan. And for the most part, the rookies or youngsters start off at the J.V. level.

“As far as not having crews and stuff being changed, it’s gonna play out as the season goes,” Cordova said. “They told us in the (PCAL) meeting as it is right now nothing else is going to change but if you have injuries to refs or they have things that come up...it could get cut down another crew and everything gets reshuffled.”

The Sonoma West Times and News reported the National Association of Sports Officials has seen a pool of licensed high school officials decline some 12 percent in the past five years for a number of reasons.

Emery said some of those reasons include an improved economy where fewer people depend on income from officiating games, an aging officials pool and a nationwide increase in verbal and physical abuse from fans.

“There’s been challenges with workers compensation issues, with pay issues, collective bargaining,” Emery said.

Sonoma West also reported a recent survey of more than 17,000 sanctioned high school referees across multiple sports was taken.

According to the survey, the main reason for a decline in referees is fan abuse. The study also showed that 57 percent of high school referees believe sportsmanship is getting worse.

James Clements, a Watsonville High alum and former student athlete, was one of the referees during at the Apple City Jamboree

“No one seems interested to ref,” he said via a Facebook message. “People want coach more than they want to (be a referee). They don’t have time and it’s not worth it. There are times it also seems like a job where you get disrespectful people yelling at you all the time.”

A story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported being a referee is one of the highest-paying side jobs and in Atlanta right now. People could earn, for example, $96 for refereeing a football game.

An official at Peninsula Sports can make $85 per football game if they’re part of a five-man crew. It’s an extra $5 for a group of four officials. Any of the other sports vary from $65 and up.

That’s not including the annual dues of $75 and the cost of uniforms, which can run anywhere from $150 to $300.

Emery said there are several solutions but going down to a four-man officiating crew is not one of them. He said the speed of todays game is too fast and the possibility of losing an official due to injury will really complicate things.

Emery said in some parts throughout Texas, the high schools now play football games starting Thursday night and run until Saturday evening. He said now it’s up to the schools to work together to come up with perhaps a similar solution in the near future.

“Friday night lights is a thing of the past,” Emery said. “You can still play some games on Friday nights but to be able to get quality officials they have to spread the schedule out.”

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Editor's Note: This article will be published in the Aug. 30 edition of The Pajaronian.

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