Youth sports fac­ing short­age of ea­ger ref­er­ees

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - DERON SNY­DER

Once upon a time, many lit­tle boys wanted to be po­lice of­fi­cers or fire­fight­ers when they grew up. Per­haps that’s still the case to­day. But it seems like more tykes dream of be­ing point guards, slug­gers and quar­ter­backs.

Base­ball’s trade dead­line Mon­day put con­tenders and pre­tenders un­der the mi­cro­scope. NFL in­ter­est is heat­ing up with train­ing camps un­der­way from coast to coast. The NBA is cool­ing down — mi­nus the bub­bling Kyrie Irv­ing ru­mors — af­ter a tor­rid sum­mer of in­trigue.

And still they come. Wave af­ter wave of high school­ers and preschool­ers, eyes set on the col­lege and pro ranks like the par­ents who drive them (fig­u­ra­tively and lit­er­ally). With seem­ingly ev­ery game on TV, sep­a­rated only by talk shows about the games and busi­ness, it’s no sur­prise that hands shoot up when kids are asked: “Who wants to be an ath­lete?”

Our ex­po­sure to ma­jor sports and their me­dia cov­er­age make it clear we’re talk­ing about a multi­bil­lion­dol­lar in­dus­try. And with that much money at the top, you know there’s plenty along the supply line. Es­pe­cially in the travel.

The Associated Press re­ports that com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try are rein­vent­ing them­selves to serve as

youth sports mec­cas. A 2009 study by the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Sports Com­mis­sions and Ohio Univer­sity found that par­tic­i­pa­tion in youth sports travel in­creased from 2008 to 2009 dur­ing the Great Re­ces­sion. Ac­cord­ing to AP, spend­ing has in­creased by 10 percent in each of the past two years, and $10.4 bil­lion in spend­ing was gen­er­ated last year.

From the ar­ti­cle: “More teams are go­ing each and ev­ery year, be­cause the one thing we found is fam­i­lies will al­ways in­vest in their kids no mat­ter what,” said Jim Arnold, di­rec­tor of busi­ness devel­op­ment for The Sports Force & Fields, a plan­ning and man­age­ment com­pany.

West­field, In­di­ana (pop­u­la­tion: 30,000) opened a 400-acre, $49 mil­lion com­plex built with pub­lic funds in 2014. Lo­cal of­fi­cials in Florida’s Semi­nole County signed off on a $27 mil­lion fa­cil­ity com­pleted in 2016. The Blue­grass Sports Com­mis­sion in Lex­ing­ton, Ken­tucky, has plans for a $30 mil­lion com­plex with mul­ti­ple multi-use fields. This year, the city of San­dusky, Ohio, opened a $23.5 mil­lion fa­cil­ity on 57 acres.

De­vel­op­ers and elected of­fi­cials ar­gue that youth sports travel, with its associated re­gional and na­tional tour­na­ments, is re­ces­sion-proof. Check back the next time one rolls around.

Ei­ther way, there’s a cri­sis back home.

A na­tion­wide short­age of high school ref­er­ees is caus­ing alarm for ad­min­is­tra­tors. The cur­rent crop of of­fi­cials is ag­ing and there aren’t enough new­com­ers to re­place them. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of State High School As­so­ci­a­tions, only two of ev­ery 10 of­fi­cials re­turn for their third year of of­fi­ci­at­ing.

“Year 3 is when we cross our fingers,” Mark Uyl, an ad­min­is­tra­tor with Michi­gan’s prep sports as­so­ci­a­tion, told the NFSHSA for a story in April. “It is like the fresh­man year in col­lege. It is a make-or-break kind of year. Ev­ery state as­so­ci­a­tion in the coun­try is feel­ing the ef­fects of an of­fi­cials’ short­age. It is get­ting harder and harder, not only to re­cruit new of­fi­cials, but to re­tain them for years to come. That is the chal­lenge that con­fronts us.”

The chal­lenge con­fronting all of us – whether par­ents, fans and coaches of well-heeled travel teams or so­cioe­co­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged high school teams – is to pro­vide a bet­ter ex­am­ple for the chil­dren. Be­sides time de­mands and low pay, abuse is a ma­jor rea­son fewer young adults grav­i­tate to of­fi­ci­at­ing.

LaVar Ball, coach of the Big Baller Brand AAU team, was in­volved in a high-pro­file in­ci­dent last week. He crit­i­cized a fe­male ref­eree who gave him a tech­ni­cal foul dur­ing a bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment in Las Ve­gas and she was re­placed at half­time. Be­ing yelled at by Ball is tame com­pared to the treat­ment some refs re­ceive, in­clud­ing phys­i­cal as­saults.

The sharp rise in travel and club sports has in­creased the need for of­fi­cials. Spec­tac­u­lar youth com­plexes don’t ad­dress an in­escapable truth: Or­ga­nized sports would die with­out the men and women who don stripes or blue uni­forms. Un­less young peo­ple cul­ti­vate an in­ter­est in that av­o­ca­tion, peers will have dif­fi­culty pur­su­ing their cho­sen sports.

We have more than enough fa­cil­i­ties for our young­sters to play games. But we could use more in­ge­nu­ity like we’ll see at Zanesville (Ohio) High School in the up­com­ing school year.

Steve Shroyer, a li­censed of­fi­cial in foot­ball, bas­ket­ball and base­ball, will teach an of­fi­ci­at­ing class that’s be­ing of­fered as an elec­tive. He hopes the stu­dents can sup­port the of­fi­cials’ as­so­ci­a­tion and maybe join it af­ter­ward. It’s not the same as be­ing a point guard, slug­ger or quar­ter­back, but we des­per­ately need a bet­ter re­sponse to: “Who wants to be an of­fi­cial?”


LaVar Ball, father of Los An­ge­les Lak­ers rookie Lonzo Ball, crit­i­cized a fe­male ref­eree and had her re­placed in a youth game af­ter she gave LaVar a tech­ni­cal.

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