Dealing with referee shortages in Southeast Wisconsin

Fan and coach behavior are factors in the shortage

The number of referees, umpires and officials for high school and youth athletics across the country is dropping. Hiring isn't really the issue; it's retention that's been the challenge.

Administrators’ say when young refs sign up, they fall off fast and there may be a reason why.

Youth sports are supposed to be fun, a way for all players, coaches and referees alike to develop but sometimes the passions are less controlled.

WIAA official and conference commissioner Jack Fleming says it's causing more issues than before. He’s been officiating for about 35 years, basketball, football, softball and baseball.

“The behavior of fans and coaches in my experience has gotten worse,” Fleming said. “Those types of situations didn't occur as often as they do today."

Just a few months ago a UW-Rock County men's basketball coach was put on administrative leave for allegedly attacking a ref.

Nowadays some fields have to be manned with signs reminding everyone that baseball is just a game and that umpires are human.

"They get wrapped up into the game," Fleming said.

Fleming says the unexpected scenarios affect the younger referees

"I think anybody in any type of work isn't going to want to be yelled at and criticized for everything they do," Fleming said.

But he says the WIAA will continue to find resolutions for the best way to retain and develop.

“It’s something we're concerned about and we feel it needs to be addressed because without officials the games aren't going to get played," he said.

Fleming just hopes fans realize that refs aren't perfect and hopes coaches understand there's a learning curve.

If you would like to learn about more opportunities on becoming a ref, visit the WIAA website.

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