Referee shortage continues to impact WIAA high school sports

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NEENAH (NBC 26) — Wisconsin school football games continue to be scattered across Thursdays and Fridays, rather than simply Fridays, so the same officiating crew can work both days.

The trend is the most obvious result of a statewide decline of available referees, which is affecting all sports.

WIAA Assistant Director Kate Peterson Abiad says the state is more than 1,000 licensed officials short of the amount of available officials at the same time last year.

“We’re going to need to see a lot of people license over the next month,” Abiad said. “So we are we are significantly behind.”

Tim Marquart, president of the Green Bay Officials Association, says the shortage is due in part to harsh negative criticism from fans and coaches.

“We lose a lot of officials who succumb to the negative feedback that they get during play,” Marquart said.

While this unpleasant behavior is limited to a small percentage of fans, Marquart said it can become verbally or physically abusive.

“We’ve had people who have gotten followed to their car or where somebody will say “I’ll see you after the game,'” Marquart said.

While Abiad said there is an influx of young officials trying their hand, the retirement rate is higher and the retention rate is poor.

“You only retain two of every 10 officials over a two year period,” Abiad said. “And [the National Association of Sports Officials] report the number one reason for that being ‘adult behavior.'”

Marquart said love of the game and camaraderie among officials keeps referees coming back.

“Coming out on a Friday night under the lights is the best,” Marquart said. “You can’t get a better time than to come out with a group of guys to be the third team on the field, as we say.”

The WIAA provides a simple pathway to become licensed as an official, while the GBOA provides advocacy and resources for local officials.

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