Soc­cer: Short­age of ref­er­ees af­fect­ing Foothill League soc­cer teams

The Signal - - Front page - By Dan Lovi Sig­nal Staff Writer

There’s an is­sue that has been bub­bling up for a few years in the world of Santa Clarita Val­ley soc­cer that fi­nally hit a break­ing point this year, and it has noth­ing to do with the schools, play­ers or coaches.

It’s the lack of avail­able soc­cer ref­er­ees.

This is­sue has lead to sched­ul­ing con­flicts be­cause not enough of­fi­cials are avail­able for cer­tain days or time slots. Some­times schools are forced to play with a two-per­son crew in­stead of the pre­ferred and typ­i­cal three-per­son crew.

It’s not just an SCV prob­lem, but a na­tion­wide is­sue.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of State High School Asso­ciations, an av­er­age of only two out of 10 ref­er­ees re­turn for their third sea­son of of­fi­ci­at­ing.

There are a num­ber of dif­fer­ent fac­tors that have led to the dwin­dling ref­eree pool.

Robert Hec­tor has been a soc­cer ref­eree for 27 years. He started of­fi­ci­at­ing nearly three decades ago af­ter he got into an al­ter­ca­tion with a ref­eree at his son’s soc­cer match.

“I was one of those par­ents on the touch­line that was al­ways giv­ing the ref­eree a hard time,” Hec­tor said. “I got told that if I wanted to watch my kid play any­more, I’d have to go take the ref­er­ees exam, come back and ref­eree the game ei­ther be­fore or the game af­ter my son’s game, or don’t bother com­ing back.

“The ref­eree ad­min­is­tra­tor said, ‘You’re go­ing to learn the laws of the game and you’re go­ing to come back and be that guy out there and you’re go­ing to have to deal with peo­ple like you.”

Hec­tor did just that, and soon de­vel­oped a pas­sion for of­fi­ci­at­ing.

The vet­eran ref­eree un­der­stands that pas­sion from par­ents, coaches and play­ers can some­times walk a fine line, even bor­der­ing abuse at times.

He even said that he once saw par­ents chas­ing af­ter a ref­eree, prompt­ing po­lice in­ter­ven­tion.

“Some­times our pas­sion be­comes abu­sive to oth­ers, and you learn that when you’re a ref­eree you have to have a lit­tle thicker skin,” Hec­tor said. “There are cer­tain things you can ex­pect. Pas­sion from peo­ple about this sport and along with that we’re hu­man and we don’t al­ways make the best de­ci­sions. Some­times we don’t say the right things, we’re speak­ing from our heart and not com­mon sense.”

Not ev­ery of­fi­cial has thick skin like Hec­tor.

The United States Soc­cer Fed­er­a­tion (USSF) and lo­cal ref­eree asso­ciations do its best to pair younger of­fi­cials with vet­eran crews.

The ref­eree asso­ciations do that so younger of­fi­cials can learn from more ex­pe­ri­enced of­fi­cials and get feed­back that can help them in the fu­ture.

But now, more so than ever, older ref­er­ees are paired with up-and-com­ers to shield them from po­ten­tial hos­til­ity com­ing from out­side the pitch.

“We should be pro­tect­ing that

young ref­eree from the out­side things that can hap­pen to make them want to quit,” Hec­tor said. “We do lose a lot of ref­er­ees from that ver­bal abuse. They just say it isn’t worth it. Some of the things that are said are pretty mean and they can take it to heart.

“For me, I’m 60-plus years old so I’ve heard ev­ery­thing and I don’t care. It’s okay, just leave my mother out of it.”

An­other rea­son why there are less of­fi­cials is be­cause older of­fi­cials like Hec­tor are start­ing to re­tire. He said younger ref­er­ees are start­ing to come in, but not at the pace of vet­eran of­fi­cials re­tir­ing.

Also, the pay isn’t sub­stan­tial enough to earn a de­cent liv­ing, so ref­er­ees usu­ally have a full-time job that pre­vents them from of­fi­ci­at­ing week­day games or early morn­ing and af­ter­noon con­tests.

“A lot of times you’ll only see maybe a two-per­son crew. Maybe the school wanted a three-per­son and they were will­ing to pay for it, but there wasn’t enough of us avail­able,” Hec­tor said. “I’m re­tired so I can get here at 1 p.m. or 8 in the morn­ing, but a lot of peo­ple have to work for a liv­ing. This Fri­day I have to be here at noon, but af­ter that I have to get to Granada Hills for two games be­cause they are short ref­er­ees.”

The de­ple­tion of ref­er­ees has cer­tainly af­fected the lo­cal soc­cer teams.

West Ranch girls soc­cer head coach Jared White said his team had to play a pre­league game ear­lier this sea­son with a two-per­son crew, and would pre­fer to resched­ule a game rather than play with an un­der­manned crew.

Also, ac­com­mo­dat­ing the of­fi­ci­at­ing crews with early games can af­fect the rhythm and pat­tern that play­ers and coaches are used to. Not to men­tion the side­lines can be bar­ren for the early games with not as many par­ents able to at­tend.

“This whole sea­son has been kind of a big change for every­body with CIF mov­ing the sched­ule up. It’s been a re­ally weird year so to add this lit­tle wrin­kle isn’t too ter­ri­bly dif­fi­cult es­pe­cially in the over­all sense of the year, but it’s dif­fer­ent,” White said. “Kids and coaches, we like rou­tines and struc­ture. We like to prac­tice at the same time and play the games at the same time so when you throw this lit­tle wrin­kle in, you have to ad­just.”

White has a unique per­spec­tive on the is­sue with his brother be­ing a foot­ball ref­eree, and he knows how dif­fi­cult it is to of­fi­ci­ate a match.

He un­der­stands that the game is quick. There is

so much ac­tion within the course of a match and there are many rules that are open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

But what ir­ri­tates him the most is the lack of ac­count­abil­ity.

“I think the thing that frus­trates coaches the most is what train­ing do ref­er­ees have other than their ini­tial li­cens­ing test? Are there re­ports be­ing writ­ten? Do they re­view game film? Are they be­ing held ac­count­able and the an­swer is 100 per­cent no they are not,” White said. “You can’t talk to them and ask for an opin­ion on a call. They say, ‘not an­other word or I’m go­ing to kick you out.”

White also said that there is an is­sue of lo­cal club coaches of­fi­ci­at­ing high school games, and be­lieves some of them don’t call the game fairly for one rea­son or an­other.

Per­haps one of their club play­ers did not make the var­sity team. Per­haps it’s a per­sonal is­sue. What­ever the rea­son, it has led to a dis­con­nect be­tween coaches and of­fi­cials.

If it is bla­tantly ob­vi­ous that a ref­eree isn’t call­ing the game fairly, a coach can re­quest to not have that of­fi­cial work fu­ture games.

Le­muel Gal­vao, head coach of High­land High School’s boys soc­cer team, said the short­age has made it dif­fi­cult to ex­clude cer­tain of­fi­cials.

“Some­times you feel there is a par­tic­u­lar ref­eree for some rea­son, when­ever they are at your games weird things hap­pen,” Gal­vao said. “So you can as a coach, you can ask to ban a ref­eree, but with the short­age you can’t ban any­body.”

While some ref­er­ees may do it for the wrong rea­sons, like col­lect­ing a quick pay­check, there are still ref­er­ees like Hec­tor who are harder on them­selves than any ref­eree asses­sor would be.

“There’s no per­fec­tion be­hind it. I’m not a robot. I try to do the best I can for the kids and hope­fully it’s a good match and the spec­ta­tors en­joy it,” he said. “At the end of the day if that’s ac­com­plished, I can go home and not beat my­self up too bad.”

Hec­tor doesn’t of­fi­ci­ate for the $75 game check. He does it be­cause he loves the game and wants to see stu­dent ath­letes suc­ceed in the sport he loves.

Plus, he just en­joys do­ing it.

“It’s the best seat in the house. It’s a lot of fun,” Hec­tor said with a smile. “Hope­fully you’re help­ing some kids out to do some­thing that is pos­i­tive and con­struc­tive. If you can be a part of that to af­fect a pos­i­tive change, it’s worth all the crap you get as a ref­eree. You have to look at it that way.”

Dan Wat­son/The Sig­nal (See ad­di­tional pho­tos on sig­

West Ranch play­ers look on as soc­cer ref­eree Robert Hec­tor calls for the ball to be thrown in from the side­lines.

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