Schools in Nebraska deal with referee shortage

The ongoing referee shortage is bleeding into this upcoming school year, causing a strain on high schools around Nebraska.
Published: Aug. 9, 2022 at 5:22 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) -The ongoing referee shortage is bleeding into this upcoming school year, causing a strain on high schools around Nebraska. The NSAA called it a tipping point for officials and those interested in the job.

This shortage means a lot of rural schools are having to pay more or move their schedules around just to get a crew to officiate their games. They said the shortage needs to be turned around before it results in games being cancelled.

For Tri-County schools, their first football game of the season, which is also their first home game, has been moved up to Thursday, Aug. 25, because of a lack of referees to cover all the Friday night games that week in their conference.

“Our home opening varsity football game on a Thursday,” Bryce Simpson, the Activities Director with Tri-County Public Schools said. “The gentleman we contact through to find officials, he asked schools to one game on their schedule play it on a Thursday, an early Friday afternoon or Saturday. We jumped and said we’d pick a Thursday game for our home opener. It’s against Fairbury so it’s kind of a cross-county rivalry.”

For Bruning-Davenport/Shickley Schools, they’ve increased the pay that’s split between a crew of referees each game from $500 to $650.

“I’m not against paying them what they’re worth, but it does cut into our budget,” Ruth Kowalski, the Activities Director with BDS Public Schools, said.

Malcolm Public Schools said they haven’t run into too many problems, but administrators know there’s a generation of referees ready to retire.

“Last year, at one of our football games we had a line judge in his mid-to-upper 70′s,” Dallas Sweet, assistant principal at Malcolm said. “He told us ‘I still enjoy doing it and giving back, but I completely understand I’m getting slower as I age. But I don’t want to quit, because if I quit, I think my whole crew will quit and that will cost the state a set of officials.’”

At the state level, the NSAA doesn’t have an exact figure of how many more referees are needed, but they are focusing their efforts on networking, recruitment and retention.

“Who is going to be the victim in all of this? The student athletes in high school who don’t get to play their game on a Friday night, or at all, because of the lack of officials,” Nate Neuhaus, NSAA assistant director said. “Sports need officials more than individuals need to officiate.”

Statewide, there’s also been a focus on improving sportsmanship. This past year, there were Officials Appreciation Weeks in the fall, winter and spring seasons.

“We have to show appreciation for the officials we do have,” Neuhaus said. “The recruiting will take care of itself in any business, any program. Your best recruiters are happy employees. Our officials, if it’s going well for them, they’re going to recruit and ask other people to join in the profession as well.

10/11 NOW spoke with LPS on Tuesday. They’re not expecting the referee shortage so much as they are experiencing logistical challenges with scheduling Lincoln Schools at their two facilities. Their third football and soccer field is planned to be operational for Lincoln Northwest’s first game this fall.

LPS is also starting a new class to teach students the skills and rules of officiating, to encourage them to consider becoming referees in the future.

For more information on how to become a referee, click here.

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