HENDERSON, Ky. (WFIE) - A nationwide referee shortage is impacting the Tri-State.
Games are being canceled because there aren’t enough officials to go around. KHSAA officials blame the treatment of referees from parents, coaches and even players as the main reason for the shortage.
On September 10, the Henderson County Lady Colonel Girls Soccer team was scheduled to play Castle High School. But if you came to the pitch, empty stands, and a vacant field is all you would see.
“That’s what’s really frustrating about this whole process is kids don’t get to play," said Henderson County Lady Colonel Soccer Coach Ben Dempsey. "Not only does it affect us as coaches and teams, but really the individual kids is what it hurts.”
Brad Coyle is in charge of assigning officials to work games in Kentucky’s second region. He explained that because of the shortage each game get’s ranked in terms of playoff implications. That means in district games get first priority, followed by region level games, and finally all other games.
“With Castle being an out of state, out of region opponent, they get last preference," Coyle said. “We have canceled games earlier this season, and we’re on track likely to have problems this coming Tuesday even.”
This is forcing some regions to go to drastic measures to make sure games can be played
“I’ve heard from some regions saying I don’t have enough to cover that night for me, so they’re going to borrow from a surrounding region so they can get the games covered," said KHSAA Director of Officials, Butch Cope.
Cope says this problem is not new and is persistent.
Last year, the KHSAA enlisted just under 4,000 licensed officials for the year. Right now, the count sits at 3,150. Cope says that number is a bit skewed because spring officials usually don’t register as a referee until after the first of the year, but it’s still troubling. Even if that figure goes up, Cope expects it to be slightly less or equal to what they had last year. Without growth, Cope says a stagnant number will cause even more problems for everyone involved.
That’s why KHSAA officials say they’ll be sending out surveys to those officials who put down the whistle asking why they did so and what needs to be changed. Cope says he hopes that the survey will give the KHSAA more information needed to help recruit and retain officials.
According to Cope, poor treatment from parents, coaches, and players continues to be the main problem for referees.
“I’ve received a couple of emails here within the last couple of weeks, I’ve been doing it for 30 years. I’m over it. I’m done," Cope said."
Brad Coyle says he’s heard the same thing.
“It’s gone down a path that, a lot of people just consider the pay not enough to go out there and take abuse," Coyle said. "Some referees feel threatened, some referees simply say to heck with it. I’m trying to help out here and I’m getting chewed up for literally darn near giving your time for something.”
Coyle, Cope, and Dempsey all say the situation is dire. Cope says the KHSAA is continuing to work on recruiting new officials, but all three agree that until the treatment changes, this problem won’t go away.
“Send a message," said Dempsey. "You know we don’t need a slap on the wrist at this point, we really need to make a stand if we’re going to get referees to come back out.”
This problem is not exclusive to Kentucky. High schools across the nation are dealing with this exact same problem including Indiana.