IRN (The Illinois Radio Network) provided info for this story:
The Illinois High School Association is putting out the call for new officials to work prep sporting events as the vaccine rollout continues.
According to the organization, there were 13,000 total officials as recently as 2014, but that number fell to around 11,000 at the end of this past year.
“I think we’re getting our contests covered this year,” said Craig Anderson, executive director of the IHSA. “But there may be areas of the state in certain sports where ordinarily they might have two umpires but are having to go with one.”
The IHSA is a private, nonprofit organization with more than 800 member high schools in Illinois. The organization offers fourteen statewide championship series for boys and fifteen series for girls. Help is a particular need for a handful of sports.
“Swimming and diving, wrestling are sports that have low numbers,” Anderson said. “Even soccer numbers have dropped a little bit. Our ball sports for the most part have good numbers, though in football, because of the number of officials, we need so many to cover contests.”
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have accelerated the steady decline in the total number of officials registered with the organization. Anderson says poor fan behavior also has been an issue at times.
“Many times it’s unknown to those of us that are observing as fans as the level of experience of an official,” Anderson said. “The last thing we need is for somebody to be in the early part of their tenure as an official and to have somebody be negative and in return, the official determines this isn’t for me.”
The IHSA Officials Department oversees the licensing and testing of Illinois high school officials, who are licensed in sixteen different sports.
“Like our students are amateur athletes, our officials are exactly the same,” Anderson said. “They’re not professional. Officials are going to make mistakes. They don’t have instant replay.”
Anderson says one benefit of becoming an official or referee in the state is the flexibility the job provides.
“When you work as an official, you work as an independent contractor. You really create your own schedule,” Anderson said. “You’re not required to take games on a weekend or a day at which you can’t if you have family responsibilities.”
Those interested in learning more can go to the IHSA website and click on the “Officials” tab.
“Clinics will be available soon. Rules books will be available to study,” Anderson said. “Then rules exams will follow just a couple of months before the start of the season. The summer months are a great time to get the licensing process going and then create the training for opportunities that could come next school year.”