FAIRFIELD — The Montana referee shortage has been covered extensively over the past several years.
As older officials retire, there are not enough new ones taking their place. That leads to strain for official pools and administrators and leads to games being re-scheduled or even cancelled.
The shortage is rapidly approaching a critical juncture and doesn’t seem to be getting any better. One solution is to try and attract younger officials, and get them interested in refereeing at an early age.
It’s easier said than done, but Fairfield athletic director Mike Schmidt is planning an event that might help.
Schmidt and the Fairfield Basketball Club will host the first ever Junior Referee Clinic on Saturday March 18 at Fairfield High School.
“We’re trying to bring in sixth through 12th graders, give them some information from the Montana Officials Association on basics and how to do a little bit of officiating and then actually have them officiate really low level basketball games featuring 1st through 5th graders,” Schmidt said. “And then we’d have a mentor official behind them to offer feedback.”
According to the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrations Association, nearly 80% of officials cite fan abuse as the top deterrent to becoming a ref. Schmidt says starting officials young could help alleviate those problems.
“Some of the fan abuse can be limited if a lot of parents see that the referees are their children,” Schmidt said. “We have to completely change the narrative. That culture where people think it’s acceptable to harass referee. I don’t know if we can, but I can do a little bit here and try.”
Schmidt said that 22 of the 30 available spots at the clinic are filled, but he is still looking for more MOA officials to act as mentors.
“It can be retired officials or people who were once officials but are not now,” Schmidt said. “They don’t have to be experts or master officials, just anyone with experience who can help mentor these kids during low-level, low stakes games.”
The clinic will be free to participants. Each kid will receive a free shirt and a free whistle and have access to instructional videos and materials. As such he’s in search of a few extra sponsors to offset the cost of the clinic.