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Sports are back on the field and finding game officials is getting harder in Wisconsin

The shortage is nothing new but the pandemic has made the situation worse
A pair of referees look on during a girls basketball game.
A pair of referees look on during a girls basketball game.(KMVT)
Published: Apr. 16, 2021 at 9:55 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 16, 2021 at 6:46 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -High school sports are back for a lot of students across Wisconsin. But finding referees and officials for games has been a challenge.

“We get people signed up and interested and then they last about two years and then it kind of fizzles,” said Brian Kenney, president of the Wisconsin River Officials Association.

There is currently a shortage of game officials all across Wisconsin. The trend is nothing new, but the pandemic has made the need more dire. On any given Friday night during the school year, there can be hundreds of high school matchups taking place -- each one matchup may require several referees. There is now an effort to recruit new blood to the profession.

“I think officiating is still fun, it’s still exciting, its euphoric,” said Kenney who works as a football referee for in the Wisconsin Dells area. “There is an element of competition, so it’s everything an athlete wants. I think we just need to keep dangling carrots in front of them get them interested.”

Kenney says every year, more and more officials are retiring and they are struggling to find new officials to take their place. Kenney believes officiating can be exhilarating, but he understands why people might be cautious about the profession.

“There’s just an element of hesitation because you’re going to get hollered at, you’re going to have people that are going to get excited, everyone is emotionally involved, so teaching communication skills is a big part of it,” said Kenney.

Kenney says the sport with the biggest shortage at the moment is volleyball.

If you’re interested in becoming a referee, here’s some information from the WIAA: https://www.wiaawi.org/Officials/Become-an-Official

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