MHSAA Ramps Up Recruitment of Officials
Traverse City’s Mark Stewart has witnessed plenty of highs and lows over the course of his 37-year high school officiating career in Michigan. But it’s the future of officiating that’s proving to be the most troublesome for Stewart.
A football, basketball, baseball and softball referee, Stewart is among a growing number of aging officials in northern Michigan.
Statewide, the average age of a high school official is 52, while in northern Michigan it’s 62.
"It seems like we’re getting more and more games and we just don’t have a lot of bodies to cover all of those,” Stewart said. “Right now we’re okay, but it’s getting to a point where it’s a critical stage."
After seeing a peak in registered officials in the latter half of the last decade, the Michigan High School Athletic Association has seen a decline in recent years for reasons like a change in family lifestyle, job status or poor sportsmanship exhibited by coaches and fans.
For MHSAA assistant director Mark Uyl, recruiting officials and addressing the issues facing officials is a year-round process.
"We talk about recruiting all the time,” Uyl said. “Every day the doors are open here at the MHSAA, we’re doing something in the world of officials’ recruitment."
Barb Beckett, president of the Northern Sports Officials Association and a retired official, says verbal abuse officials receive from parents and coaches is the worst she’s seen.
“I’ve attended some games this year where it’s gotten way more personal,” she said. “They used to just yell "bad call," and this and that, but now they get more personal when they yell things, and that’s probably a little tougher to take."
"People don’t realize, it’s your family, it’s your co-workers and it’s the people that live next door to you that are doing this game,” added Bill Parker, an official and NSOA game assigner. “They’re just doing it to give back to the sport.”
Although the NSOA has seen more interest this year from prospective officials, the organization is still losing members, something Parker blames on poor sportsmanship.
"This past year we’ve recruited about a dozen new officials, which is absolutely great, but we’ve lost six, and that was with only one season during basketball, and that’s because of poor sportsmanship,” Parker said.
Lake Ann’s Jay Morse is one of those prospective members, having joined the NSOA for this year’s baseball and softball seasons.
For him, umpiring is about staying involved in the game he loves and paying it forward, like officials did during his youth.
"I work every game this year with a senior official – someone that’s been here, and has officiated many games,” he said. “Every game, both before and after, I have questions, and I get them answered."
In an attempt to draw more interest in officiating, Uyl and the MHSAA are highlighting the pay.
"You cannot make what you make in officiating on an hourly basis, in just about any other area,” he said. “So that’s a way that we’re really trying to recruit. Officiating can be a great way to supplement an income."
However, Stewart is quick to note that those officiating for the money are in it for all the wrong reasons.
"If we’re umpiring and refereeing for money, we’re doing it for the wrong reasons,” Stewart said. “Now we want those younger folks that have had that opportunity with us doing those things for them. We want them to step up and be able to do that for the next generation of young athletes coming through."
Those interested in becoming officials can register or learn more by visiting www.mhsaa.com/officials or www.nsoa.org.