Referee Shortages Are Impacting Wisconsin High School Sports

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In the heart of basketball season, some local high school teams are facing a different kind of challenge out on the court. Several games in western Wisconsin have been rescheduled due to a shortage of referees.

The WIAA has nearly 9,000 officials for all sports throughout the state of Wisconsin but they say retaining those officials after the first few years is becoming increasingly difficult.

“A lot of the quality officials for varsity are aging out and at the lower levels an AAU, there seems to be a lot of verbal abuse towards officials,” said Nick White a WIAA official. “Nobody wants to deal with that so they don’t stick with it long enough to work varsity level.”

Some say the reason for becoming an official is simple.

“I love the game of basketball,” White said. “It’s the same competition I had as a high school athlete to get all the calls right, hustle to be in position.” But the number one reason for officials not sticking with it is also pretty straight forward. “Nobody wants to get yelled at but for whatever reason, fans feel they have the right to criticize verbally officials,” White said.

Nick white has been a WIAA varsity official for 15 years and this year has noticed 6 games being rescheduled due to the shortage.

“Over the last several years, more so in the social media era that behavior of fans, either putting things on social media or verbally at games kind of deters some of the younger folks from sticking with it,” White said.

New referees are not sticking around and older officials are retiring, leaving a gap in recent years.

“It hasn’t been the end of the world but it’s a struggle,” said Perry Myren, the Athletic Director at Regis Catholic Schools. Local athletic directors are struggling to find officials to cover all high school level games. “It becomes very difficult and it’s not really fair to our kids because that is what it is all for,” Myren said.

“It’s a team effort all the way from the players, coaches, parents and the trained officials. We’re talking about high school athletics, we’re not talking about professionals, we’re talking about doing something better for our kids and allowing our kids to be well rounded individuals,” Myren said.

The Indianhead Officials Association is working on a recruiting campaign to teach people what is all involved with becoming an official. They are also working with the UW- Eau Claire intramural officials to recruit more WIAA officials. 

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