Referee shortage isn’t keeping up with youth sports needs

Referee shortage isn’t keeping up with youth sports needs

A shortage of officials is having an impact on youth sports across the state.

Tim Richter, with the Wisconsin Hockey Officials Association, has seen it firsthand. He started seeing a decline in certified referees in 2010. That season, there were 1,605 officials in Wisconsin. This year, there are 1,232 hockey referees, nearly 400 less than five years ago.

“I know a lot of sports that they’re in the same situation hockey is,” Richter said.

Richter said that 25 percent decrease statewide comes as hockey keeps growing in popularity, especially with girls. On top of that, an increase in tournaments has put an additional strain on staff.

“Because of this reduction, we’re starting to see games getting canceled, especially in the Madison and Dane County area,” Richter said.

Richter said almost two out of three certified referees across the state are between the ages of 12 and 20.

“It really is a commitment,” Richter said.

That level of commitment is becoming tougher and tougher for young people who are playing the game and officiating along with other activities. That puts more responsibility on older referees.

“As our officiating pool ages, we’re going to need young people to join us as officials, and I think as generations turn over, we’re going to see the trend shift to where, you know, more and more games may be canceled,” Richter said.

Richter said the association will focus on recruiting high school players who may not have a future in college hockey. Those players already have the basic skills and knowledge to do the job.

“Most officials, they don’t do it for the money,” Richter said. “They do it because they want to give back to the sport.”

In addition, Richter admits dealing with players, coaches and parents can be challenging.

“As with any official, you have to have thick skin, and they’re just criticizing the sweater that you’re wearing,” Richter said.

If you’re interested in officiating, you can visit the Dane County Hockey Officials website or the Wisconsin Hockey Officials Association website.