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Officiating is supposed to be enjoyable as it appearsto be for the veteran New Jersey official Bob Berk (left, top photo), who is seen alongisde a collegague while working a summer league game. Meanwhile, there is a growing shortage of officials around the country due to number of factors as the veteran offcial Ron Kramer (in second and third photos) wrote about in an effort to try and address growing national problem. (SC photo & also courtesy of Ron Kramer)

Shortage Of Officials Nationwide
Has Its Root Causes To Address

By Steve Tober
for sidelinehatter.com

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association is continuing to make every effort to get the word out about the shortage of officials while encouraging interested men and women to explore the possibilities of getting involved in being part of the action from the officiating perspective in any number of different sports.

The National Federation of State High Schools Associates headquartered in Indianapolis, IN, states in their on-line application process, “Make the right call -become a high school official- be the different maker your community needs.”

A couple of summers back former longtime New Jersey sportswriter Bill Kennedy, who now resides in Maine, forwarded Sideline Chatter what was entitled, ‘An Open Letter To Sports Administrators, Coaches and Parents’ in the state of Maine, written by his friend, Ron Kramer of South Portland, Me., and Petaluma, Calif., who has been a longtime sports official in hockey, lacrosse and soccer.

What Kramer had to say in his ‘Maine Voices’ perspective about the state of officiating remains both alarming and informative today whether it’s in New England or here in the Garden State as we experience the summer of 2024 and with another new school year not that far off.

In his open letter he discusses several factors that are leading toward a shortage of officials with points of emphasis that certainly could be applied to most every other state across the nation.

Here is Kramer’s thought-provoking take on a subject that is vital to the lifeblood of high school sports across the nation.

An Open letter to Sports Administrators, Coaches and Parents

After officiating thousands of youth, high school and college soccer, hockey and lacrosse games for over two decades, I am writing with a warning of impending failure and collapse of our current interscholastic sports model.  

We are at a tipping point, as our senior officials are rapidly aging out in many of these popular sports.  Our current efforts to recruit new officials have failed to keep up with the number of retiring senior officials for a number of reasons.

Here are the facts:

1. Senior officials are rapidly aging out.
2. Recruitment and retention of new officials is not at pace with retiring officials.
3. Fewer officials means fewer games.
4. No officials mean no games.

Here is the cause and effect:

1. Poor sportsmanship and inappropriate behavior by coaches, parents and players.  
2. Marginal compensation.
3. Lack of organizational leadership and accountability at the clubs and high schools.

As the lead for recruiting new officials in hockey, soccer and lacrosse for the past several years, I have met with, talked to and reached out to hundreds of potential candidates.  The number one response I get is “Are you crazy? You guys get treated like sh..t!” There it is. Perception becomes reality and often the truth.

If the athletic field is an extension of the classroom, then why is poor behavior tolerated in our youth sports? As adults we need to ensure that all participants, including game officials, feel safe and are protected from unreasonable and inappropriate behavior.  In other words, a “safe space” to compete, perform and grow for all involved.   Unfortunately, that isn’t the case today.  

I appreciate the effort sports organizations have made to ensure players are protected from sexual predators, and fully endorse fingerprinting and background checks.   However, I question why a similar effort has not been made to ensure the protection of officials.   I am going out on a limb by assuming that the harassment of officials is far greater to the number of sexual incidents by officials toward student athletes by a factor of 1,000 to 1.

Eliminating inappropriate behavior in our sports organizations need not be costly or involved.  It simply needs to start from the top down.  I would like to offer the following ideas toward a working solution.

Solution:

1. Establish a written zero tolerance with an accountability process from the top down.
2. Require signed contracts from coaches, players and parents acknowledging a written code of conduct.
3. Enforce stiff penalties for violations of the code of conduct, including suspension, fines and banishment.
4. Establish consistent training and mechanics for officials of all sports on effective ways to deal with sportsmanship related issues.  

We are at a tipping point here and now.   We need action. No more radio ads or recruiting posters.  No more yelling and berating our kids, coaches or officials. This is not tolerated anywhere but the sports field, and it is degrading and defining sports today.

Let’s take action, support our state motto and lead the nation by holding coaches, players parents and officials accountable for their behavior on and off the field. This ensures a safe space for everyone who participates in our sports.  Our future depends on it.

Respectfully,

Ron Kramer
South Portland, Maine
Petaluma, California

Senior Sports Official, Hockey, Lacrosse, Soccer    

Follow Steve Tober on 'X' (formerly Twitter) @Chattermeister

Retired longtime New Jersey high school sportswriter and former Glen Ridge resident Bill Kennedy, who now resides in Maine, has spread the word of friend and veteran official Ron Kramer who has been published in materials for referees as he to tries and address the official shortage.

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