BOZEMAN — Worker scarcity across Montana has affected a variety of industries, including the sports world.
High schools are seeing a statewide shortage of referees this fall, causing dozens of games to be rescheduled and even potentially canceled.
"The officials that are experienced, those are officials that have worked through their ranking system," Montana Officials Association Commissioner Mark Beckman explained. "We all start at an apprentice. You can work to a master official through about five years, so the ones that are comfortable - either certified or mastered, have enough experience to do a variety of games - that’s where we’re short.”
To accommodate the lack of experienced referees, athletics directors across the state have been put into a frenzy altering schedules left and right.
“It’s been a challenging fall for a variety of reasons," Bozeman Schools Activities Director Mark Ator said. "You just have to take a deep breath and scramble things up a little bit. You have to adapt to change, and last year quite honestly all the issues we had with COVID, I think that’s one thing we’ve learned to do a little bit better is adapt to change quickly.”
Since 2019, MOA officials for fall sports have actually increased, but there’s a deeper issue rooted within these numbers.
“We’re pleased with how our numbers are, but the problem comes to be instead of recruiting officials, it’s retaining officials," Beckman explained. "Once they get past the two-year mark we need to keep them so that we have those experienced officials to do those games.”
Mark says there’s a variety of reasons why he thinks retention is so low. First and foremost, rigid work schedules making it harder for referees to leave their 9-5 job for early afternoon games.
“We need to try to do as much as we can to address those issues, and part of that too is scheduling games where officials are more available instead of having a 1 o’clock JV game," Beckman said.
Along with COVID still being a concern, another big reason why referees are stepping away is the harassment they sometimes face from heckling parents.
“That’s where we’re hoping that our administration is taking care of that so that our host administration makes sure that those things don’t happen, and we want to make sure that our officials don’t ever have to put up with that kind of behavior," Beckman said.
Despite the referee shortage, the MOA says they feel like they have enough to get through the fall. However, the winter may be a different story. They’re specifically in need of more basketball referees, so if you’re interested in potentially becoming one, click here.