Field Worker Shortage
High school sports officials aren't signing up for games.
Thursday, August 2, 2001
It is Risley''s job to assign sports officials to high school athletic contests at venues from King City to Morgan Hill, Salinas to Carmel. The problem is that when school starts this fall, he''s got too many games and not enough referees.
"Right now, I''m sitting on a situation where I don''t know if I have to call schools and say, ''Field hockey I can''t do,''" Risley says.
Risley is a tall, athletic-looking guy who umpired baseball and football for years. He''s just recently hung up the whistle. About six years ago, he left a career in personnel at Macy''s department stores to start up Peninsula Sports Management. His company is contracted to organize, assign and handle the payroll for high school sports officials for two local leagues on the Central Coast--the Monterey Bay Athletic League and the Mission Trail Athletic League.
Risley has an office in Pacific Grove. From there he matches 13,000 assignments for 5,600 games with 325 sports officials in the Monterey Bay area. This year, he''s short on whistleblowers.
"I need 25 percent more [referees and umpires] than I have," Risley says. "I could use 75 more officials."
Risley has been buying "help wanted" ads and contacting sports editors to try to get news coverage. The problem persists. Few people want to endure the fans'' and parents'' heckling and worse for the $50 or so referees are paid per game.
Elgie Bellizio is well aware of Risley''s problem. He is the commissioner for both Central Coast scholastic athletic leagues. He officiated basketball and football for 36 years.
Bellizio says some sports are better off than others. There are always plenty of referees and umpires for football, baseball and basketball. But water polo, volleyball, wrestling and field hockey are hurting. "They''re tough to fill," he says. "They just don''t have the numbers. Period."
Besides having trouble getting qualified, committed people to officiate, it can be hard to keep them involved. Bellizio has found that some younger referees don''t want to officiate lower level games if they can''t get gigs for varsity games. Also, while women''s sports are plentiful today, female referees are rare. Of 325 high school sports officials in the area, only 11 are women.
It''s also quite a commitment to don the zebra stripes. Bellizio points out that a Salinas-based referee assigned to a football game in King City would have to take time off from work on a Friday afternoon and leave around two or three o''clock. He might not get home until midnight.
"That''s a lot of time without compensation," Bellizio says.
The problem is not limited to Monterey County. According to a recent national poll, 90 percent of high school athletic conferences across the United States report a shortage of referees.
Some blame the deficit on a change in cultural attitudes. For years referees and umpires have been accustomed to getting razzed by fans. Today, in the era of road rage, it''s gotten much more serious than some yahoo shouting "You need glasses, ump!"
Bob Still, a spokesman for the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO) keeps a long list of recent violent incidents against referees. Dating back to 1996, the list details some of the worst of the violence directed at referees. NASO gets two or three reports a week of a referee getting shoved, threatened or beaten.
A recent national survey of high school sports officials found that the top reason for referees quitting was the decline in sportsmanship among players, coaches and fans.
"People used to say ''Kill the Ref!'' and everybody would laugh," Still says. "Nowadays as an official, you look over your shoulder to see if they really mean it."
the Weekly Tally$412.78 Average amount that eligible Californians will receive from the IRS over the next 10 weeks. The checks, based on 2000 income taxes, serve as advance payment on 2001 tax returns.
--Source: Internal Revenue Service