We are in the middle of a nationwide shortage of high school sports officials.
It is a major problem in Montana as the football season starts this week. The Butte football officiating pool, for instance, will need as many as 35 officials on some Friday nights in the not-so-distant future.
As of last week, the pool had a total of 25.
You don’t have to be Will Hunting to see why that is a problem.
We have to come up with solutions to bring us out of this crisis in the short term and the long term.
In the long run the answer lies in the words of the great Rod Tidwell.
When talking with his agent, Jerry Maguire, the Arizona Cardinals receiver explained his family motto that can be employed to solve this official shortage.
“I wanna make sure you’re ready, brother,” Tidwell said to Maguire. “Here it is: Show me the money. Oh-ho-ho! SHOW! ME! THE! MONEY! A-ha-ha! Jerry, doesn’t it make you feel good just to say that! Say it with me one time, Jerry. It really is that simple.”
Yes, it certainly is that simple. We need to show the officials the money.
This season, the subvarsity pay scale for the Montana Officials Association went up to $48 per game. The rate for varsity games stayed the same at $60.
That is way to little on several levels.
Each year, we lose some of our older officials. In Butte, the legendary Bob Rowling has to finally step down as an on-field official after more than 50 years refereeing basketball and football.
We need to erect a statue of Rollo. We also need some younger officials to step up and fill those shoes. We could even use some middle-aged people to earn their stripes.
It will take least 10 people to fill those size-9s.
Membership dues for the MOA is $65 per year for the first sport. Is an additional $30 for each sport after that.
Officials also have to buy their uniforms, which includes shirts, pants, shoes and hats. So, new officials will have to work several games before they even break even.
That is a pretty big deal when we’re talking about recruiting college students to become officials when they just had to shell out a small fortune in books.
We need to raise the pay for refereeing a varsity game to at least $100. We also need to pay for officials’ MOA dues and give them a clothing allowance.
If you get a job at McDonalds, you get a free uniform. So why should we make our officials buy theirs?
You also don’t have to be Will Hunting to see that jacking up official pay so drastically will cost a lot of money.
Raising the cost of a ticket to games by a few bucks could help pay for it. Perhaps we could get statewide sponsors to help cover the cost.
Yes, you will hear the schools cry poverty at such an suggestion. But if they can afford to pay school administrators six-figure salaries, they can certainly find a way to come up with the money to make sure sports for the student-athletes survive.
Student-athletes, by the way, are generally some of the best students in the school, and that is not a coincidence.
Without officials, there are no games, and we really are not far off from seeing cancelations because there are not enough officials available.
It will happen at some point soon if we don’t act now.
Paying officials more would mean more officials. It would also make better officials because the pools would once again be able use the subvarsity games as a training ground for officials.
Once again, the men and women in stripes would have to work their way up to the varsity level.
As it stands now, if you pay your dues, pass your open-book test and buy your uniform, you will find yourself in the middle of the action in a varsity game in no time.
Having a pool of more officials would mean only the very best would get to referee the most important games. Our young athletes, after all, deserve the very best.
As it is now, they just get what they get and they don’t throw a fit.
That is not to say that we don’t have very good officials. We do.
We are very lucky to have the men and women who sacrifice their time and suffer through heavy verbal abuse for very little pay. But we are just that. Lucky.
With officials fading away faster than Butte High boys’ basketball coach Luke Powers’ hairline, the likelihood of not-so-good officials joining the ranks goes up all the time.
We are never going to convince fans to treat officials better, so we have go the money route to make the abuse worth the officials’ time.
In the short run, we need officials in a bad way. We don’t have time to wait for rational solutions.
We need able-bodied men and women to step up and take on the task. If you watch football and can move around a little bit, you have what it takes.
You don’t have to have been an All-State player. You don’t even have to have been a player. The qualities that make a good football player aren’t necessarily the same as the ones that make a good official.
Former players, though, could be good officials, too.
You also don’t have to be in marathon shape to work a football game. Have you seen the bellies on some of those guys?
It definitely helps to be in shape, but some of our officials are built like the old cops we used to tease about eating donuts all day.
Instead of paying a few bucks to watch a game, why not get paid to get a better view of the games? Officials have the best seats in the house.
They get the same view of the action as the players. They also get the adrenaline rush and excitement of playing under Friday night lights.
If you are looking for something intense to fill that hole in your life, officiating is probably for you. It would be perfect for those veterans who participate in Xsports4vets events.
It would be perfect for nearly every sports fan out there.
Call Rowling (490-5822) or Ned Ellingwood (491-0641) to become an official. In Dillon, call Mike Richardson (925-2352).
Rowling, who is still the MOA regional director, officiated until he was 75. He would still be going if he didn’t have to have surgery on his neck and leg in the last few months.
We have seen other officials do it until their body just couldn’t take it anymore. They didn’t do it for the money, but the cash sure helps.
If you sign up to officiate now, maybe you’ll be shown the money this time next year.
— Bill Foley, whose next door neighbor has three rabbits, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74