Like sports? Want a part-time job that pays you to exercise and lets you choose your own hours?
Answer “yes” and you may be in the running to become an umpire, say recruiters.
Locally and nationally there is currently an extreme shortage of officials.
According to Bob Marfechuk, vice president of the Racine Lakeshore Officials Association, in Wisconsin alone, the last two years has seen a decrease of 10,000 referees.
Nationwide the stats are even more stark: During this same time period the national drop in sports officials has hit 50,000.
Locally this has meant fewer referees to officiate at school sports.
“In the next two or three years there might be not enough officials to officiate basketball, softball, baseball or football in the Racine and Kenosha area,” Marfechuk said.
The RLOA provides sports officials for football, basketball, baseball and softball throughout Southeastern Wisconsin.
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“You name the sport that requires a sport that needs an official and we’ll find one,” he said.
“Our association has 120 to 150 individuals. This is the pool of registered referees certified by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association,” Marfechuk said.
The RLOA provides referees for elementary and high school sports from Kenosha to Oak Creek and west to Wilmot and Union Grove. They also work with private organizations whose teams include youth baseball and youth softball.
Reasons for shortages
Part of the reason for the current referee shortfall is fear of exposure to COVID-19 but other factors may be in play, Marfechuk said.
“Sometimes it’s the attitude of some parents and coaches,” he said. To be an official you can’t have ‘big ears’ that hear everything.”
“It takes a unique personality to step onto the court and in between the lines of play,” notes Bryan Mogensen, coordinator of athletics for Kenosha Unified School District. “That said, we appreciate those who do the job.”
Referee shortages have caused disruptions to some sports say sports professionals.
“For high school basketball we try to assign one game to each person but direction we’re heading in is that there won’t be enough bodies to officiate the sports some nights,” Marfechuk said.
The shortage can lead to hardship for schools and student athletes. “If we don’t have enough officials, schools have to reschedule their games,” Marfechuk said.
The challenge of rescheduling games due to referee shortages is something Mogensen has experienced first-hand.
Mogensen works with RLOA to secure sports officials for grades sixth through twelve.
“We haven’t been affected by mass cancellations but have had to figure out some different dates because there was no official available,” he said.
“In springtime rescheduling around the weather is challenging and this highlights the shortage of officials,” Mogensen said.
An ideal part-time job
In an effort to stem the tide of diminishing sports officials, Marfechuk points out how becoming an official can be the perfect job for “high school students, college kids and adults.”
Sports officials can earn $30 to $85 depending on experience, he said. “When I started this was my money to go to college.”
Other plus-side factors include being able to work when you want and work as little or as much as you want, Marfechuk said.
“It’s great for former athletes, college students and adults whose kids are grown and out of the house,” he said.
“Officials come from all professions. You can build new friendships.”
It’s also paid exercise, he noted. “In a typical basketball game, you might be running 2.5 to 3.5 miles.”
To support new referees, the RLOA holds training camps and assigns them mentors as needed, Marfechuk said.
What’s it take to become a sports official? Ability, skill, interest and energy, says Marfechuck.
Marfechuk invites those considering officiating to contact him. “I’m willing to be that person to get them into the game.”