PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) – The days of Friday Night Lights will soon be here as high schools sports begin again in Oregon. But there is one hitch that may move some games to different days. Across the country, there has been a shortage of referees. In Oregon, it is no different.
“The biggest concern, of course, is the shortage of officials for the sports,” Oregon Athletic Officials Association Executive Director Jack Folliard said.
Over the last few years, the number of registered refs across the state has been on the decline, and the pandemic has made things worse.
According to OSAA, the governing body for high school sports in Oregon, the number of football refs has dropped 34 percent compared to last year. In the 2019-2020 season, there were 656 registered refs across the state. During this shortened spring season, only 431 refs are registered. Other sports like soccer and volleyball are seeing the same thing. Soccer is down 29 percent, while volleyball is down 45 percent. OSAA says the number of volleyball officials may improve as some counties are still under heavy restrictions that don’t allow indoor sports.
The thin pool of referees has presented a challenge to school districts. Many are having to reschedule games to Saturday.
“The officials are essential to the game, so it can’t happen without them. So we are all used to working with each other for something like this,” North Salem High School Athletic Director Brodie Cavaille said.
He adds this isn’t a new problem only exacerbated by the pandemic.
“They have adjusted way more than we had to adjust,” Stanton High School Athletic Director Darren Shryock said, “But now with this, their shortage, they are just stuck.”
Shryock says they are being as flexible as possible to get games in.
“Jose, the soccer commissioner he said he may be asking us to play our varsity games a little earlier so they could get to Salem to ref those games. So they are working their tails off,” Shryock said.
OSAA points to a few reasons why the shortage in refs is happening. The average age of a ref in Oregon is 46 years old. Many are older and worry about the virus and may wait to return to officiating until the pandemic is over or a vaccine is available to them.
For now, the refs and the districts will make it work using every tool they can to help get these games, so many have waited for underway.
“It is the spirit of cooperation during these unusual times to get the job done. Everyone is working real hard,” Folliard said.
Learn more about becoming a ref in Oregon here.