There is a quote attributed to Julius Caesar that says: “Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword.”
It was about a month ago when leaders of the Southern Nevada Officials Association tried to whip those who follow and administer high school sports into a froth by stating that a shortage of referees and game-operations officials had become so severe that problems were almost sure to arise.
The inference: Teenagers or somebody pulled from the stands might have to call pass interference or, egad, a targeting call that might decide a state playoff game.
This was before the COVID-19 variant replaced patriotism as the double-edged sword du jour.
“The crazy thing is, because we’ve had so many cancellations, right now we have enough officials,” SNOA commissioner Marc Ratner said about the re-emergence of the pandemic and its impact on high school sports.
Ratner said those teenagers and somebodies pulled from the stands most likely will be assigned to Pop Warner instead of state playoff games, but that’s beside the point. The point is this, he said: “We still need (officials) in all sports, whether it’s operations, chains and clocks, volleyball or soccer line officials or game officials.”
Vince Kristosik, the longtime president of the SNOA, said that in 2019-20 — the last full season of high school football — there were 292 on-field football officials. Today there are 175. He said at one time the SNOA had well north of 300 football referees, umpires and head linesmen.
The numbers also are significantly down in volleyball and soccer, which is contesting boys and girls championships this fall. Coaches are having to call lines in volleyball, Kristosik said. Instead of using three officials for soccer games, last week an important girls varsity game had one.
Kristosik said the situation is so dire that Fox News sent out a national reporter to do a story that will focus on the shortage of officials in Southern Nevada, though a cursory Google search also turned up similar stories and situations in California, Utah, Kentucky, Oregon, Colorado, Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia.
According to the National Association of Sports Officials, registration of officials across the country is down about 30 percent this year.
Football officials in Southern Nevada make $55 per game. When you combine the modest stipend with an increased lack of sportsmanship and health concerns, Kristosik said being an official simply is no longer worth the aggravation for many.
In Nevada, the referee shortage is not just a Southern Nevada problem. Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association officials say there’s a dearth of officials in the north and in the middle of the state, too.
“I can tell you from our end that we’re down 300, at least, from where we would normally be,” said NIAA spokesman Bartt Davis, adding that while some officials in winter and spring sports have yet to register, the shortage is nearing a breaking point.
Despite an orchestrated effort to reach out to potential new officials — Ratner said the SNOA has even tacked up handbills at Nellis Air Force Base, thinking it could be an untapped resource for referees and officials — the NIAA has yet to see an increase in the numbers.
With most football games still on as scheduled this week — Friday’s Basic-Foothill game has been canceled — Kristosik said that some may be assigned four-man crews instead of the usual five. It’s conceivable pass interference or targeting might go unnoticed.
“We are in a crisis situation right now,” he said about a scenario that, unlike a call that might decide a game, makes further review unnecessary.
Calling all officials
Those interested in becoming high school on-field or game operations officials are asked to visit the Southern Nevada Officials Association website at snoaofficials.com.