The growing number of sports options has in many cases increased the number of referees and umpires needed.
“The proliferation of travel ball has provided tremendous opportunities for officials to call contests and get paid for them,” said Bill Schoen, a high school sports officials administrator from Scranton, Pa. “There’s plenty of opportunities for officials to work and get compensated.”
Among Schoen’s responsibilities as Male Officials’ Representative for District 2 of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association is recruiting new candidates and administering tests to prospective new officials.
He has suggestions on places to look when seeking new candidates.
Schoen said two groups he tries to seek out are family members of current officials and athletes who are coming to the end of their playing days.
“I think children or grandchildren of existing officials make great candidates,” Schoen said. “The family and household is already familiar with the life and scheduling considerations that an official has to undertake, which means some time away from home, travel time, etc.
“There’s already a familiarity within the household.”
When Schoen works with the schools that make up the PIAA District 2 membership, he also speaks to school administrators and athletic directors about being on the lookout for the next officials.
“Students in college and former players, soon after their playing days, make great candidates because they understand the game and are more easily able to transition into being able to officiate in any number of sports,” said Schoen, who began officiating in the same way as a youth softball umpire in 1980. “It’s helpful to understand the nuances of the game.”
With competition on more levels and in more organizations, aspiring sports officials often have better chances of quickly breaking into the industry today than they did in the past. However, they still must learn the craft. While new officials receive training and get experience calling games, Schoen also recommends that they attend games to observe other officials as well.
“Go and see the best people work,” said Schoen, who used the same approach himself when he first started out as an official. “I think that’s the biggest difference between new officials today and new officials when I started 30 years ago. The new official today is already out working travel softball and baseball because there is so much of it around. There wasn’t 30 years ago, so I used to go out and watch top people work.
“I encourage our new people to get out and watch the leaders of their sport work their games and see what they do. Emulate that.”
The level of need within the PIAA and similar organizations throughout the nation varies according to sport and situation. Efforts to bring in new officials, however, are ongoing across the board.
The PIAA devotes a section of its website at piaa.org to recruiting and assisting officials.
A page on “Becoming an Official,” summarizes the task.
“There are many benefits to becoming an official for interscholastic athletics,” the PIAA website reads. “You are making a difference in the lives of students everywhere, encouraging exercises through competition, and establishing life-long fundamentals of fairness.
“The job is not for the faint of heart. It challenges you athletically, requires cool and decisive thinking and means ‘sticking to your guns,’ but the rewards are great.”