There are many high school sports teams across the state, some having already gotten their season underway, and others, waiting for this weekend for their first game, and although they might each have different approaches to their sports, they all have at least one thing in common. They all need referees to officiate their games. Unfortunately, refs are in short supply around the state.
Although games are currently being played as normally scheduled, there's a fear some may get canceled due to a lack of referees. Several local JV soccer games have been axed, and it's not just a central Montana issue, it's statewide.
"Most of our sports are experiencing a shortage of officials, some more so than others. But, you know, we're in a situation where we're struggling to cover games,” GFPS athletic director Mike Henneberg said. “It’s not just a Great Falls issue. It's kind of a statewide issue. So we're trying to be creative in some scheduling and doing some different things. The last thing we want to do is deny kids a chance to play but it's definitely an issue and it's something that that's not going away and we’re working to keep games going."
The Great Falls Pool currently has about 35 officials in it. For long time ref, Jeff Farrington, that's nothing compared to what he's seen. He’s reffed football for 42 years and says numbers have dwindled over the years.
“A lot of the schools use 5-man crews so if you go to Browning and Great Falls, and say, Lewistown, there’s 15 officials right there. 35’s not near enough,” Farrington said. “When I started back in the day, we had 65. We’re having to move schools that want to play on a Friday night to either Saturday night or Thursday night simply because we don’t have the officials to cover them. And we just need people to come out. I mean you run, you get a little exercise, and you make a little money.”
One reason the numbers are down is because pools are getting older and not many young people are filling in their places. Farrington also added pay and time commitments are factors for it as well. “If you’re in officiating for money, you’re in it for the wrong reasons. For me it’s about being around the kids and giving them a fair shake with officiating,” Farrington said. “It’s something I love and have fortunate enough to do for so long.”
Hunter Boyd is trying officiating this year to help solve the problem and to stay connected to sports he loves.
He's yet to officiate a game, but expects he'll love it based on what he's seen so far.
“I played high school football all four years. Knew some of these guys and they refed me in high school. Thought I might help them out. I knew they had lower numbers. Worth it. Definitely a fun experience, bunch of great guys just having fun watching football, making sure everything goes right.”
If you're curious about becoming a ref, you can visit the MOA website for more info.
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