An inside look at the high school referee shortage in Wisconsin

Posted at 6:33 PM, Mar 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-20 11:43:14-04

MILWAUKEE — It's a weekday night for Denny Von Rueden.

"Break it break it break it!" Von Rueden says.

Officiating two to three games per week.

"You know, the other one was probably the, where the kid went down," Von Rueden says. "But I think their feet just, got, I mean they were both on your side."

And they go over calls at halftime and postgame.

"Three you're moving into him. Two," Von Rueden says.

Denny and his crew on this night, have experience on their side.

"You know, you probably got over 100 years of reffing experience here so," Von Rueden says. "It's a, you know. There hopefully isn't too much to talk about."

"They got more refs registered over 50 than they have under 50, which is really a bad stat," Von Rueden says.

How bad?

"Pretty bad," Whitefish Bay Head Coach Ryan Fiet says. "I don't see a lot of younger crews. And I mean, that's all throughout all high school sports."

"I think the WIAA and the coaches, do realize there's a problem. And I think the coaches are the best they've ever been," Von Rueden says. "You're also paired up with younger people that you know, you can maybe talk about different types of situations. You know, since, here would be a situation that all of us would know. But there weren't many fouls called in the first half. I think we had seven total. So what will happen in the second half is they'll usually get a little bit more aggressive. A lot of the younger guys are getting into it. But they may only stay in 3, 4, 5 years."

Denny tries to be proactive. Talking through calls...

"I always try and yell like hands, hands" Von Rueden says.

...And to fans. Refs and coaches agree. You can question calls, but there is a line that can be crossed.

"You know, I got animated. I made my point," Fiet says. "You came and gave me a great explanation or whatever you saw. Maybe you missed it and you admit that. I mean, that's fine and all. And then, you gotta move on."

And sometimes the lesson is in losing.

"And I think they forget what sports is really all about," Von Rueden says. "And going, it's good for them to lose. It's good for them to fail. Life is not all about winning."

With the playoff games getting bigger and the calls more magnified, now is the time for fans and those involved to be more understanding, and others to step up and officiate to help keep high school sports being played.

It’s about time to watch on your time. Stream local news and weather 24/7 by searching for “TMJ4” on your device.

Available for download on Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and more.

Report a typo or error // Submit a news tip