There’s a shortage of on-field officials for high school football, and the MIAA is scrambling to address it

The effect is felt on the field, in the stands, in schools and at home.

“The very fact that we’re talking about it means it’s bad enough,” said Jim Quatromoni, athletic director at Hingham High School. “I think the impact is more of the lost opportunity and the ‘Friday Night Lights’ experience in your school community. People and students who have had this experience, it’s hard to complain, but if you’re denied it, you don’t necessarily know what you were denied.

According to the MIAA, the number of football officials on the field fell by 16%, from 867 to 729, between the fall of 2018 and last June.

This decrease is actually less than the overall 23% drop for all high school athletic officials in the state. Other sports experiencing shortages of officials this fall include soccer and field hockey.

The statewide drop echoes across the country, with the National Federation of State High School Associations estimating that some 19,500 football officials quit their jobs shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic. , although the numbers are starting to bounce back. An NFHS survey found a 6% increase among all public servants over last year among 28 of 36 state associations that responded to the survey.

Yet there aren’t enough of them in Massachusetts.

MIAA associate executive director Richard Pearson points out that bystander behavior is as big a contributor as anything else.

“No doubt, absolutely, it got worse, in my opinion,” Pearson said. “These officials are well trained and doing their best to manage a live event that is moving at a very fast pace, doing their best to do the best things for our children, and doing their best they are shouted at. and shouted at.

The “#benchbadbehavior” hashtag effort is part of a national effort enacted by NFHS to raise awareness of the issue. Participants in an NFHS consortium this year “identified rude behavior by fans – and others – as the most common and visible issue affecting the recruitment and retention of officials,” according to an NFHS press release.

For Tom Azevedo, the reasons have spread beyond the stands.

Azevedo is the interpreter of state football rules for the MIAA and works closely with officials, training them and filling vacancies.

Older civil servants who didn’t have football games to work on in the fall of 2020 found reasons to stay away when the pandemic subsided. The young referees were not ready to replace them.

The older referees, Azevedo said, “were at home with their wives on Friday night, and they found other things to do. Also, the wives found it nice to be home with their husbands. It’s definitely a family decision.

Azevedo believes the rise in bad behavior in the stands is rippling through society as a whole.

“We all hear fan complaints about referees at the NFL level, and that affects us,” he said. “A lot of fans don’t understand the rule differences, and that the rules they see on Sunday or Saturday watching college football are totally different than what you see on a Friday night.”

And if these matches are played on Thursday or Saturday, the reactions are the same.

With fan behavior not expected to return to more civility in the immediate future, Azevedo is trying to bolster his charges.

“I try to say to young officials, ‘Don’t worry about it – if you’re tied up or too concerned about what someone says on the sidelines, then you shouldn’t be working football’,” Azevedo said. . “You have to drop that.”

Melrose High School DA Stephen Fogarty referred to a combination of factors that aren’t helping teams maintain their grip on Friday night football.

“With the late start initiatives that many schools are going through, the start times for these sub-college games have been pushed back a bit,” Fogarty said, “making scheduling more difficult, coupled with the aging public servant population. , it’s just a recipe that makes it much harder to get people involved.

“It’s a perfect storm, isn’t it?” I mean, you have schools that come out later, which changes start times, and you have schools that start games earlier in the evening, which limits your pool.

“Fan behavior may well be one of them. I think there are a lot of things that come into play, there is no single answer. Look, everywhere you go, you go to any store, you go to any restaurant, and the “help wanted” signs are everywhere.

The Waltham High School football team played on a Thursday night this season.

“We had a game [vs. Newton South] at Bentley and we had a great crowd, it was a great night for football,” said Waltham AD Steve LaForest. “I don’t think it’s really that different from a Friday night, but I’ve heard from some ADs that the number of people at games is shifted on Thursdays compared to Fridays.”

Playing high school football on Thursdays and Saturdays might seem unusual, but in the grand scheme of what’s happened over the past two years, it may just be one more pandemic-influenced change.

“I just think that’s it,” Quatromoni said. “I think we need to do better in trying to recruit and encourage young people to get into this field, and I think we really need to pay attention to the whole general expectation of how we treat officials in game and what it should look like.

“And I hope with each passing day, COVID is less of a problem in our world. But it’s still there, you know, and it’s still creating disruptions and distractions in people’s lives, unfortunately.


Michael Silverman can be contacted at michael.silverman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeSilvermanBB.

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