The high school basketball season is about to begin, but a shortage of referees threatens to complicate scheduling in north central Washington.
Teams around the state are moving into the Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association’s (WIAA) “season 3,” which includes traditional winter sports such as basketball and wrestling.
North central Washington’s basketball official associations in Okanogan and Chelan Counties are anticipating a likely shortage of game officials, according to a release from the Okanogan County Basketball Officials Association (OCBOA). (Editor’s note: the OCBOA release was prepared by Rick Lewis, longtime basketball official who also writes about sports for the Methow Valley News.)
Early estimates show rosters of game referees are down by as much as 50%, with several factors playing a role in the loss of game refs, according to the release.
As of April 30, OCBOA assigner Mike Thornton reported only 15 of the usual 25 varsity certified officials have indicated they are returning for the upcoming season to cover varsity, junior varsity and junior high levels.
In Chelan County, longtime referee and member of the Washington Officials Association (WOA) board of directors Steve Simonson reported numbers are down about 33% in that association. He said that the number of available officials might be below 50% in the Columbia Basin Association, centered in Grant County and serving most of the area inside the Big Bend of the Columbia outside of the eastern tier of counties.
“It would be a great time for those thinking about officiating,” said Simonson. “With the shortage, there will be lots of games to ref, and with no playoffs or tournaments, a great time to learn about officiating.”
WOA Executive Director Todd Stordahl reported that through WIAA Seasons 1 and 2, the shortage of officials was consistent across all sports that require them.
It’s still early for firm numbers on Season 3, Stordahl said, though. The WOA is “not sure about basketball officials (yet), but other sports are down about 33% to 37%,” he said.
Stordahl said the total number of anticipated games is down a bit as some schools are not offering junior high or junior varsity programs this year, “so that helps. It seems like the officials that have opted to officiate have also made themselves available to cover as many games as possible. It still isn’t enough, but the effort is definitely there.”
The shifting of the basketball season from late November through February to late May and early June seems to be a key factor everywhere. Officiating high schools in Washington is not usually a primary income source, so work responsibilities and the demands of “day jobs” take precedence with individual scheduling, and taking time away to travel and call games is more difficult, according to the OCBOA release.
COVID precautions and a resistance to wearing the state-mandated facial protections are also key in the decision to avoid officiating this year, and the normal general turnover in game officiating is also present.
Liberty Bell High School and Washington State University graduate Tim Lewis, who lives in Pullman, is a board member and trainer for the Southeast Washington Basketball Officials Association (SEWBOA). An additional factor in that area is the loss of college student officials. With both WSU and the University of Idaho out for the summer in early May, they will lose significant numbers (about 25%) leaving that area to go for summer jobs, and graduating seniors leaving the area for good. SEWBOA also depends largely on school teachers and staff.
“It’s a lot tougher to ask our school teachers to get that sub for their last period so they can drive to Pomeroy or Rosalia now in the heat of finishing the school year, than it is the week of Christmas break,” Lewis said. “At some point, as selfless as our people are, we have to keep their mental and physical health in mind, and working games six nights a week isn’t going to be healthy mentally or physically for 90% of our officials. As much as we try to preach the fun aspect of what we do, there’s still a lot of brain work that goes into refereeing basketball and it can wear on people.”
Most associations, while gearing up for the impending season, are still ready to accept new members, train them up and set them out with veterans to learn the craft this year, according to the OCBOA release.
“It’s a good year to jump in and learn,” Simonson said, as there are no post-season tournaments to deal with.
Locally, the OCBOA needs additional members from to help cover the middle school and JV levels, especially.
Compensation varies from about $25 per game for middle school, to $40 per game for high school JV, and $50 for high school varsity games. There is some adjustment at the middle school and JV levels for the difference between two- and three-person crews.
There is an annual dues assessment of $65 that covers both the state and local association dues, a complete set of books covering rules and the mechanics of officiating, a one-year subscription to Referee magazine, a pass for all state tournaments and events, and insurance coverage through the National Association of Sports Officials.
Contact Mike Thornton in Omak at (509) 826-1965 for more information.