Time for the next generation of officials
Missouri seeking new, youthful crop of referees
Friday nights in the fall have almost always been sacred in southwest Missouri.
Fans pile into stadiums to cheer for their teams under the lights around the state. However, that experience, especially in the larger cities, is becoming more difficult.
Varsity football games in St. Louis are now being played on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The reason? Lack of enough game officials.
Doug Martin, Cassville athletic director, said his high school has not had any issues getting officials for regularly scheduled games, but rescheduled games have presented challenges from time to time.
“I think the assignors for officials have done a great job keeping things running,” Martin said. “Where we have had some difficulty is when we have rainouts and are forced to reschedule games. I think the pool of officials has shrunk a bit. It can become difficult to find two officials free on a given night. With softball moving to the spring and the addition of junior high baseball and softball programs, that number of free officials gets smaller, and scheduling becomes difficult.”
According to Jimmy Hogelin, executive director and assignor for the Joplin Football Officials Association, there are currently enough crews to cover the Friday night varsity season grind.
“Right now, we have 11 five-man crews,” Hogelin said. “We also have the ability to reach out to our sister organization in Springfield and draw from their 19 crews. Both groups currently have around 215 in combined membership.”
While Hogelin said getting officials together for varsity events has not been an issue, the sub-varsity events is where the problems are beginning to appear.
“It’s those off nights, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday games, that can be tricky,” Hogelin said. “First, we have aging crews on Friday night and we need to find their replacements. We are actively recruiting now.
“Secondly, those older guys don’t necessarily want to do or cannot do the sub-varsity games.”
Richey Fretwell, executive director and assignor of the Joplin Basketball Officials Association, said there are reasons groups are having issues getting younger candidates.
“For one, the fans,” Fretwell said. “Some guys simply can’t handle being yelled at. Secondly, you have to pay your dues. I’ve been doing this for 25 years. You don’t just come in and get the Joplin-Webb City game. You have to rise up through the ranks. I’ve officiated my share of junior high events.”
Both assignors said the ability to communicate with coaches and to take criticism and instruction were key to being a good official.
Fretwell, who along with officiating partner Dereck Price, recently called a Monett-Webb City softball game.
On a bang-bang play at first, Fretwell initially called a Monett runner safe, but on appeal, talked it over with Price and reversed his call, resulting in an inning-ending double play for the Lady Cardinals.
“I think there is a natural tendency for an official to think that they are always right,” Fretwell said. “In that case, I missed the call, but was able to get together with my partner and get the call correct. Communication is huge to being a successful official.”
The assignors had essentially the same list of qualifications to be a good official.
• Be level headed
“If you have a quick temper, you won’t make it as an official,” Hogelin said. “You have to have people skills to be successful in this job.”
• Have a passion for sports
“If you don’t enjoy sports, you won’t enjoy officiating,” Fretwell said. “I have a passion for officiating because it is a way to give back to the kids and community. I’m a competitive person and want to be the best official I can.”
• Be interested in officiating
To become an official, individuals must complete an application found on the Missouri State High School Activities Association webpage. The cost is $65 for the first sport license, $30 for the second sport, plus $25 for every other sport. When an application and check arrives, MSHSAA will forward a packet of study materials.
Individuals will then take an open-book exam and return the exam to the MSHSAA, and upon passing, a license will be sent.
For more information, people may go to www.mshsaa.org.