Iowa high school sports feeling impact of official shortage

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DES MOINES, Iowa – High school sports need officials to play games, but the Iowa High School Athletic Association says there’s a shortage of them.

IHSAA Executive Director Tom Keating says this isn’t a new trend, but one high school athletic leaders have seen coming and are now dealing with.

“If you get a phone call on a Friday morning that for a Friday night conference doubleheader the officials we thought we had for you are unable to work and we can’t find anybody else, it is a scramble,” Keating explains. “You’ve got a bus coming, you’ve got players from another school, you’ve got fans coming, you’ve got concession workers getting stuff ready and you don’t know if you’re going to have a game or not.”

According to Keating, schools of all sizes are experiencing a shortage. That’s because the experienced officials are getting ready to retire. Long drives, work schedules, and time away from family are reasons some aren’t sticking around. Not to mention, behavior from fans and coaches makes it so younger people don’t even want to get started.

Keating says officials are needed across the board, whether that be the sports that have been around a long time or even newer ones.

“Swimming, quite frankly, we have an incredible shortage in swim officials so we’d like to see some of those young men and women who have been involved in swimming get involved in that,” Keating said, “but I’d say those big ones [sports] are the ones where we’ve got the most experienced crews who are saying, you know, it’s time for somebody else maybe to step into this.”

IHSAA is getting creative with its recruiting efforts by working with colleges and high schools to teach students how to officiate different sports and get them started as young as they can.

It’s clear from Keating that officials, referees, and umpires are a valued and necessary aspect of high school athletics.

“It can be challenging, but I think the satisfaction that comes from knowing you’re giving young people an opportunity to do something they really love outweighs any of the stress that comes with it,” Keating said, “and really we can’t play the games without them.”

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