Nationwide Referee Shortage Impacts BSM Winter Sports


Whitney Hanson

Schools have been finding it hard to find and schedule referees in a timely manner

Since 2020, the number of referees has dropped by twenty percent. Twenty percent might not seem like a lot, but the lack of personnel has been shocking throughout the highschool sports world. With the referee shortage in full swing coming into the BSM winter season, winter sports schedules will likely be impacted. For example, some sporting events have been spread out over several days to accommodate limited referee availability.

The lack of referees makes scheduling events extremely difficult for athletic directors all across the country. The job of a referee is among the most challenging in the sports world. Given how much influence officials have to affect a game’s outcome, every decision they make is carefully scrutinized. “It was hard for me to referee games a lot this year. Some of the fans I remember would heckle me a lot during the course of the games I was reffing. I see where other refs are coming from when they don’t want to participate in officiating the games, and that is why I think there is a ref shortage.” said Umpire Noah Goldman.

The retirement of long-serving officials, the opening of new schools, and worsening spectator behavior are only a few of the factors behind the current referee shortage. The great resignation has been in effect since late 2021, mainly due to bad bosses, low pay, or seeking better opportunities elsewhere. While some industries see 3-5% of employees quitting, referees are quitting at 20%. Many former referees have cited harassment and poor treatment as their reason to quit. Since COVID-19 started, reports of harassment or verbal abuse against refs have increased dramatically. “Yeah, there were a couple times I felt that some people watching took it too far for a youth sport…There’s a ref shortage? That doesn’t surprise me.” said a Hopkins hockey referee.

Statistically, hockey has the most incidents of referee injuries. With the BSM hockey season starting, there could possibly be issues with finding an adequate number of refs. The threat of players flying across the ice and launching a rubber puck off their sticks at over 100 mph is not appealing to refs. Even with helmets and other protective gear, a puck still has the potential to seriously injure a referee since they are in the heart of the action. A combination of poor sportsmanship from players and spectators, a lack of respect for the referee’s calls, and the threat of injury makes finding refs difficult.

For the hockey season, there really isn’t much local authority control over this. The state and league levels must make an effort to establish conditions that prevent poor behavior from driving out sports officials. Accepting criticism is part of the job of a sports official, but there comes a time when the line must be drawn. But when you’re new, you don’t know what you don’t know. BSM could implement a system where new officials can get constructive criticism that will help them progress. This could enhance the overall officiating experience, which would logically lead to more officials remaining for longer.