Statewide referee shortage impacts high school football schedules

CHRISTIANSBURG, Virginia. –Head coach Alex Wilkens and the Christiansburg football team hit the gridiron for Week 2 of the high school football season, but this game was a little different.

“The children had to get up and go to school today and they are not used to it. They are used to sleeping, sore and tired,” Wilkens said.

A rare Thursday night game event that may become more normal for Commonwealth teams due to a statewide shortage of referees.

“I had to contact the schools and get them to move their games from Friday night to Thursday night or Saturday afternoon,” said Steve Fleshman, commissioner of the Western Virginia Officials Association.

The schedule change has caused a ripple effect that not only impacts JV and college schedules, but also parent volunteers, game workers, band, cheerleaders, and more. .

The biggest adjustment for coaches is team workflow.

“It speeds up your prep week. I think as coaches we are planners. so you split your workflow over ‘x’ days, and when you lose or add a day for that matter, you have to deal with that,” Wilkens added.

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The decline in public servants began during the pandemic, but this year is worse. The Western Virginia Officials Association has lost 25 umpires.

Although they have new recruits, they are selective about officiating college games.

“Because of the time and commitment it takes to become a good football official. And there are a lot of rules that you have to know. And sometimes they feel like they have to join in and immediately working on college games and it doesn’t work that way,” Fleshman said.

Their goal is to maintain the integrity of the game with good officiating while working to field more referees.

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