The shortage of high school sports officials and referees in North Carolina has grown more apparent since the pandemic, but data released last week by the NC High School Athletic Association shows it could get much worse.
Over the summer, the NCHSAA created a committee to study the issues behind the lack of new officials and the inability to retain current officials. The committee conducted a survey of all NCHSAA officials in all sports and received a 42% response rate.
The survey captured a lot of data, but one number stood out more than any other — over the past two years, 53% of NCHSAA officials have considered leaving.
“If you lose us, you lose high school sports,” Steve Schwartz, NCHSAA committee chairman, said in an interview on 99.9 FM The Fan on Wednesday. Schwartz has coached high school basketball in the Triangle area for 36 years. “The school system in the state of North Carolina will be left with the very real possibility that programs will have to be canceled because they won’t have officials to call their plays.”
Schwartz said there are two main reasons officials are leaving: sportsmanship and compensation.
“Why can’t we recruit and why do we have a challenge to keep officials? Well, there are two main reasons. Sportsmanship – people are over the abuse and it’s gotten worse over the years … The NCHSAA needs to get a handle on sportsmanship. . Schools have to deal with sportsmanship. And pay — a lot of officials just don’t believe they’re getting paid what they deserve,” Schwartz said.
The poll found that 63% of NCHSAA officials feel bad behavior from fans, coaches and players makes refereeing less rewarding and 66% said spectator behavior is worse than ever.
Pay is the next big problem, according to the survey. 51% of officials who responded to the survey think that the salary scale does not reach the appropriate level. Schwartz said officials in neighboring states are paid more.
A basketball official earns $52.50 for a varsity basketball game, or $105 for a varsity doubleheader.
“It’s not an Uber ride to school for a lot of them,” Schwartz said. “And a lot of officials say, ‘Why would I go work a high school game and get paid $105 for two college games and put up with that level of abuse?’ Young people say, “I don’t know how to do this” … And for senior officials, it’s like, “How long will I want to put up with this?”
Last week, Schwartz and other committee members met with the NCHSAA Board of Directors to present their findings and make recommendations. The board is expected to consider these recommendations and take action at its regular winter board meeting, which begins later this month.
“”The NCHSAA has a challenge on its hands that we need a seat at the table – the referees need a seat at the table – we need to be fully integrated into their mission. We believe in the education-based mission of athletics,” Schwartz said. “I really hope that the salary issue will be addressed in some way given the financial challenges that schools have, so that everyone out there who is officials to say, “OK. That’s being handled.’ And then that buys a few years of time to address the issue of sportsmanship. That’s what I hope comes out of it.”
Schwartz said he left last week’s meeting with the board feeling optimistic.
NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said in a written statement last week that the board is ready to address the recruitment and retention issue.
“The members of our Board of Directors are committed to fully reviewing the committee’s findings, creating a game plan and timeline to address these issues while continuing a dialogue with officials from across the state,” Tucker said. “Our goals are to make fundamental changes, both short-term and long-term, to improve the conditions and experiences faced by officials at our schools and at our competitions.”