Since 2010, every Kansas high school sport has experienced a decline in registered game officials, according to the Kansas State High School Athletic Association.
Overall, from 2009-10 to this school year, the difference in officials is more than 1,000, with basketball accounting for the sharpest decrease of nearly 450 officials.
Fran Martin, assistant executive director for the KSHSAA, said some of the decline can be attributed to a good economy and unsportsmanlike behavior.
“Officiating is a part-time job, and when the economy is good, people aren’t looking for part-time jobs. This is true, not just in Kansas, but across the country,” she said. “It’s also very difficult for people once they start a family. Once they get out, they’re probably not coming back for another 15 years.”
The need is now
Martin said the lack of officials has caused games in certain areas across the state to be moved to different days.
“Some football games this year were moved from Friday to Thursday to make sure we had a crew (officials),” she said. “There are times where a football game only has one official or a crew works a game at 4 p.m. and have to rush to another game to officiate at 7 p.m. It’s really an issue in rural areas.”
J.D. Johnson, 33, who has officiated high school football and basketball for the past 10 years, said he has noticed the shortage.
“I constantly get emails about the need for officials in different areas of the state,” he said. “There seems to be a lot of veteran officials leaving the game or retiring and not enough young people are filling in.”
One deterrent, Martin said, has been a lack of respect toward officials.
“Whether it’s coming from players, parents and coaches, that kind of negativity doesn’t endear people to want to become an official,” she said. “We still have as many teams as we did 10 years ago, and in some areas, even more. We need more registered officials.”
Johnson said he began officiating games while attending Fort Hays State University. Since then he has participated in games featuring players such as Ron Baker, Perry Ellis and Willie Cauley-Stein.
“It’s such a great experience to be a part of some big time moments and seeing some great players perform,” Johnson said.
Jason Gordon, 40, is a 20-year high school football and basketball official who watched his uncle Gregg Gordon and father, Doug Gordon, officiate for more than 30 years.
“It’s an extra fun job, and the camaraderie between the officials is great. I’ve met some of my best friends through officiating,” Gordon said. “The main reason I like to officiate is to give student athletes the opportunity to compete. I hope more people, particularly the younger generation, will pay attention to this and register.”
Alec Azim, 20, of Salina, has been an official since his 13th birthday, and said the industry has helped him build several key characteristics.
“It really teaches you responsibility. As a young official, you’re held to the same standard as everyone else,” Azim said. “You also learn about reliability and honesty. You have to be reliable and honest about when you will or will not be available.”
Martin said for the third consecutive year, KSHSAA is soliciting new officials through social media, emails and through their website, KSHSAA.org.
“We hope high school or college students seeking a part-time job will sign up,” she said. “We welcome anyone who cares about giving students an opportunity to compete interscholastically.”