Douglas County no exception to nationwide shortage in officials
This week’s eight-man football game between Yoncalla and Camas Valley has been moved from Friday to Saturday due to an officials shortage, according to Yoncalla coach Matt Bragg.
It’s just one of the many games impacted by a nationwide decline in the number of officials, proving that Douglas County is no exception.
“If we don’t come up with a solution to this, there are going to be games that are not going to get covered,” said Roy Palmer, the Douglas County football commissioner. “They’re going to be canceled. And that’s not a threat, that’s just pure numbers.”
Douglas County soccer commissioner Dennis Kreiss opted to contact athletic directors prior to the season’s start and ask for games to be spread out more. Last year, soccer games took place almost exclusively on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This year, there are several Monday, Wednesday and some Saturday contests.
Football is still predominantly scheduled on Friday nights, but Camas Valley already moved most of its home football games to Saturday, making it a little easier on officials.
Palmer said there are currently 22 football officials in Douglas County and on Sept. 28 it will take exactly 22 officials to fully staff all the games being played in the county. So if any of the 22 officials have another personal commitment, Palmer has to contact other officiating organizations for crews, ask athletic directors to reschedule games, cancel games or have an official work a 4 p.m. game and a 7 p.m. game on the same day.
“It’s become extremely complex to get games covered,” Palmer said. “If we don’t develop a solution, then we’re going to have games canceled because you only have so many people and the answer is to increase our number of people.”
And how do you do encourage people to give back to the community and give back to these young people so they have the opportunity to play? That’s really what it boils down to.”
Kreiss said the number of soccer officials used to be right around 22, but dropped to 12 last year. After some recruiting, the number is back up to 18.
Todd Wagner is the Emerald regional representative for OAOA, which Douglas County is a part of, and the president of the Lane County Umpire Association.
He said, “I know with the Douglas County numbers so low, there’s been times that we’ve had to cover games for them. And that’s not just baseball, but across the board.”
Statewide, the overall number of officials dropped from 4,412 in the 2010-11 school year to 3,495 last year. That’s an 18 percent decrease over eight years — an average of 2.2 percent decrease each year and a loss of 917 officials.
The biggest decrease came in wrestling, where the amount of officials dropped by more than 30 percent over eight years. Volleyball saw the smallest decrease at 6 percent.
Douglas County wrestling commissioner Tony Griffin, volleyball commissioner Robert Freeman and basketball commissioner Steve Perkins did not return phone calls from The News-Review.
“I officiate volleyball and I know that if it wouldn’t have been for six or seven new people this year, our numbers would’ve hurt,” Mike Goetz said. Goetz is the Douglas County commissioner for baseball and softball and a multi-sport official.
“I work for YMCA, so I always enjoy working with kids and I enjoy playing the sport when I was young,” Goetz said. “It’s a change I have to return back to those kids.”
Jack Folliard, executive director of the Oregon Athletic Officials Association, said: “Oregon is not unique. There’ll always be enough officials to do varsity games, but we’re worried more about the sub-varsity — JV, freshmen, etc. — in terms of getting coverage.”
At an officials meeting this summer in central Oregon the OAOA commissioners got together with the Oregon School Activities Association to come up with ideas to recruit more officials.
All OSAA-certified officials are members of the OAOA. The two organizations partnered up to establish a recruiting website, newofficials.org, where anyone who is interested in officiating can enter contact information that’ll be forwarded to local associations.
“One of the things we found successful for our recruiting in Eugene for Lane County umpires is (posts on) a Facebook page,” Wagner said. “We started a website about how to get involved in umpiring, we post on craigslist, we also get out into the schools, we communicate with high school coaches ‘do you have any kids that want to become officials,’ and news stories like this. We’re starting to transition to get a little more into the social media realm for recruiting purposes because you can’t just use newspapers and word of mouth anymore.”
Lane County is one of the few associations in the state that’s maintained its number of officials.
Several local commissioners say they have been doing these things, as well as promoting Battlefields to Ballfields to encourage more veterans to sign up. Battlefields to Ballfields is a foundation started by former NFL player Mike Pereira, a it provides scholarships for veterans who want to integrate back into their community through officiating, which can pay for equipment and fees.
Palmer said the program helped get two of the three new football officials in Douglas County.
For many of the officials it’s about giving back to the sport, giving back to the community, staying in shape and making a little extra money.
“Most people do it because they want to stay connected to the game and give back to the community,” Palmer said. “There is some money to be made, but most officials don’t do it with their eye on the prize, if you will. But you can make a little bit of money and it helps when you have a project you’re working on.”
OSAA uses certified officials in football, volleyball, soccer, basketball, baseball, softball and wrestling.
“Last year we had five new people show up,” Goetz said. “They showed up to the first meeting and out of the five, three signed up and sent in to get the paperwork and only one ever came back to the second meeting and we don’t know why.”
Goetz said he tried calling the four others, but those calls went unanswered.
Commissioners speculated that the economy, fan abuse and initial cost are part of the reason it’s hard to recruit new officials.
“Right now the average age of the veteran official is 50-55, a lot of us have been doing it for 20-25 years and we’re getting too old,” Wagner said. “Another detractor is fan conduct. You would be amazed at the mount of abuse an official takes throughout the game.”
Officials don’t have to come in with a lot of knowledge on the game, because there are training programs available. Palmer also pointed out that officiating is not gender specific and that he’d encourage anyone with a love of the sport to sign up to be a football official.
“We can take somebody that has very limited knowledge about the sport and train them,” Palmer said. “An official’s responsibility is to create a safe environment for the game to take place, that’s the primary goal. The rules have changed here of late to really focus on safety.”
Kreiss added, “We would work with anybody. We only care if they want to help the kids and maybe learn a new skill.”
New officials also won’t be able to officiate a high school varsity or college game in Week 1. Instead, they’ll work middle school games, freshman games and get some experience before they officiate at the highest level of sport in Douglas County.
But at the lowest level of the sport is also where the fans can be the toughest on the officials.
“Society got to a point where they’re pretty brutal to officials,” Kreiss said. “Somehow, society has to realize that people are doing this to give back. They’re human beings and they certainly don’t make mistakes on purpose.”
“It’s very rewarding, but to be a good official takes time,” Wagner said. “You’re not going to be perfect the first time you step on a field or on a floor. You’re going to make mistakes, and the good officials learn from those mistakes and study it to get better and eventually they become great officials. You’ve got to dedicate yourself when you do it ... I’m far from perfect. I learn something new every year and I’ve been doing it for 23 years.”
Kreiss said people sign up for a variety of reasons such as contributing to the community, developing student-athletes, exercise and to get paid. “We pay you to get exercise,” Kreiss said.
Officials typically earn between $30-70 per game, depending on the level. Additionally, gas mileage is also reimbursed.
“For me, it’s an opportunity to give back,” Palmer said. “I love it. I just love the Friday night lights, but it’s not what drives everyone.”