NFHS, WIAA make plea for more officials, ‘better fan behavior’ at games

The National Federation of State High School Associations, or NFHS, is sending out a nationwide plea for more officials for high school sports and calling for better fan behavior at events.

The executive director of the NFHS cited a national shortage of officials that “borders on catastrophic in some sports,” per the official column posted on the NFHS website.

WIAA executive director Dave Anderson also contributed to the column.

The column cites data from the National Association of Sports Officials showing referee registration across the U.S. is down 30 percent.

Jim Dolesy of the Coulee Region Officials Association says part of that is due to the pandemic forcing older officials to opt out for health concerns, but they won’t necessarily come back to officiating when things get back to normal.

He says the decline has been years in the making, with two major factors still driving the downward spiral.

“Twenty years ago, we had 144 members, but that number has now dwindled to almost half at this point,” Dolesy said of his group of referees, who are registered to work WIAA events. “The statistics will tell you that 80 percent of new officials will stop officiating within the first couple of years. There’s probably two major reasons for that. One is the time commitment involved, time away from home. A lot of times, the young officials getting started are also young parents, so they’re leaving a spouse at home. And then of course, criticism from the fans and a few coaches tend to draw people away.”

Dolesy added the shortage already affected the spring football season, with more games scheduled on Thursdays and Saturdays because of low ref numbers.