Why are referees getting burned out?

Local News

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – A nationwide referee shortage is continuing to affect youth sports in southwest Missouri.

Many clubs and high school teams around Springfield have had some events rescheduled or postponed due to a lack of officials able to call games. 

The reasons vary, but local officials say it’s partly due to physical and emotional burnout.

“We’ve just seen a steady decrease in officials over the years. This season especially is going to be tremendously hard, due to the pandemic we’ve lost a lot throughout the last two or three years because of that and the recruitment of new officials has been tough,” says Courtney Donohue.

Donohue is the General Manager of the Strafford Sports Center. She says once her shift ends, on many days, a long night of refereeing then begins. 

“For probably 95% of officials this is a second source of income for them on all levels….so they go work a 9-5 and then come here and work till 9 at night. It’s tough.”

And tough on your emotions too. Donohue says unruly spectators take a toll on both veterans and recruits. 
“It’s a tough industry to be in. It’s a thankless job and when you’re out here…I don’t think that the spectators and coaches realize that we’re all in this together, sometimes is brutal out there. If a parent comes into the game and sees a younger ref on the court, encouragement is always better than berating them.”

She says unsportsmanlike conduct has trickled into not only fans, but players, coaches, and parents.
“I think that if they would realize that they keep treating officials like that, you’re going to have even more of a shortage and we’re not going to be able to cover all the games.”

Like many refs in the area, Donohue says officials at the Strafford Sports Center are sometimes working six days a week, three games a night.

“That just should not happen. You’re running 6 miles in a game. That’s tough.” 

At the middle school and high school level, Springfield Public Schools Athletic Director Joshua Scott says the referee shortage has become a type of epidemic. 

“We’re having to get a little bit creative for our Freshman schedules and Varsity Friday night schedules,” says Scott. “The biggest issue that we’re seeing right now is reschedules, when there’s weather issues, we’re not trying to firm up any reschedules until we make sure that we do have officials for that day.”

He says the shortage is also costing schools more this year due to available referees having to travel longer distances to games. 

“We’re trying everything that we can. I do think one of the biggest benefits would be making it making it a more enjoyable environment for officials during the game. Part of the goes on my coaches, some of that goes on our student-athletes that are playing, and some of that goes on all of us that are fans in the stands and how we treat and cheer for the kids and not against adult officials because we really need them in order to have our events.”

Scott added he realizes there needs to be a change in the way harassment is handled when it comes to sports, even if it means referees reporting incidents to the district. 
“If officials don’t like the way they are being treated at a facility, please call athletic officials at that school. We want to help and have a great environment not only for the athletes on the field, not only for the parents in the stand, but for the officials calling our games.”

If you’re interested in becoming a referee for local sports teams, you can contact Courtney at the Strafford Sports Center, or click here to apply.  

If you’re interested in becoming an official for high school sports, more information can be found on the Missouri State High School Activities Association’s website. Springfield Public Schools says there will also be a referee recruitment booth set up at the Tournament of Champions events at JQH Arena coming up on January 13th to 15th, 2022.

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