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Referee shortage for school sports

Posted: 8:54 AM, Jan 07, 2016
Updated: 2016-01-07 09:57:52-05

Wednesday night's game between Bath High School and Laingsburg is the third time Victor Cena has officiated a game this week.

"This week will be busy. I have 3 varsity games and 2 sub-varsity games this week. I'll work 5 games this week" said Cena.

For 41 years Cena has been running up and down basketball courts. But recently things have gotten tight for all refs but especially those in basketball.

"We used to have girls basketball being played in the fall and boys basketball in the winter." Cena said. "Now that we have boys and girls in the same season, that has led us to having to work multiple, sometimes multiple games in the same day."

That change in schedule has caused a lot of referees to have to work more. And the pressure has caused a lot of refs to hang up their whistles.

When there aren't enough referees to oversee games, those games will have to be moved. And it's Mike Conlin's job to move some refs around to fill those empty spots.

As Executive Director of the Capitol Area Officials Association, he schedules hundreds of referees in the Mid-Michigan area and he told us that a need for refs is increasing.

"It gets very busy, what ends up happening is once you get everything scheduled if everything worked perfectly that would be great. But you have, life gets in the way" Conlin said.

In December, Conlin had to move the game between Sexton High School and Williamston because there weren't any available refs.

"I think it actually is the first time in my 20 years where I had to tell an Athletic Director. We can't play, I don't have anybody" said Conlin. "And I had already done the moving and the shaking people people around and I just knew it wasn't going to be a possibility."

Michigan High School Athletic Association's (MHSAA) Communications Director, John Johnson, says each year they have to replace 10 percent of the referee force, which is about 1,500 people across Michigan.

Johnson says one of the reasons people aren't officiating games is because of the thriving economy.

"It's always cyclical. The economy is a factor, where people are in life with their kids are a factor. You can't say there's a single thing that drives people to officiate. Or gets them out of it at the same time" Johnson said.

MHSAA is always recruiting people to become referees but they say they need more young people to find the passion.

And as more refs retire there are chances more games will have to be moved or cancelled.