A scarcity of workplace looms forward of Maine highschool soccer’s return this fall

The prospect of a return to normal high school sport this fall enlivens a question that has arisen in the prime of years.

Who is running the games?

The shortage of match officials in virtually all interschool sports has become a growing challenge not just in Maine but across the country.

The National Federation of State High School Associations launched a recruiting campaign for aspiring sports officials in 2017, but the shortage remains and could be exacerbated by COVID-19 in the coming school year.

There are many opportunities in Maine for people interested in reconnecting to competitive sports by becoming an official.

“It’s not just football, it’s everything,” said Jeff Benson, the Maine civil servant who estimated 30 to 40 percent of civil servants across the state were absent during the recently completed school year. “Football, soccer, field hockey, we need officials in everything we have to do in autumn.”

Football, among other sports, is grappling with a gradually declining, aging membership among its officials, and it is now facing possible further cuts by officials who decide not to return or opt for it after sitting out last fall due to COVID concerns decided or decided not to officiate – Tackle versions of the sport offered when tackle soccer was marginalized after it was classified as high risk in state community sports guidelines.

The Bangor Chapter of the Maine Association of Football Officials, which provides high school, middle school, and youth football program officials in the northern half of the state, began last year with 60 officials available to work on games.

That year, Chapter Assignment Doug Ferguson said there were only 47 officers left as of Thursday.

“The numbers are way down,” said Dan Campbell, a veteran football and baseball official who will teach the Bangor Chapter’s annual class for new officials beginning August 12. “People retire every year. Some of the guys who retired this season really wanted to retire two years ago and came back for another year, and then last year COVID really put a lot of pressure on a lot of things. “

Whether this chapter or others across the state are able to provide a sufficient number of match officials may depend on the availability of members who have chosen not to work games in 2020.

“When I speak to some of the clients and I know how many people have been out in the fall and winter, I think the biggest question is how many of the people who have failed come back to us and don’t sign out,” Benson said .

“That will be the big challenge for us and our board members. How many of those officials who have signed out are going to come back so we can provide the service we need to do for the schools? “

A deficiency can be remedied in various ways.

One of these is the sharing of officers with neighboring chapters, a practice that has been used occasionally in recent years.

“This fall there is one night we need 50 officers and another night we need 55,” said Ferguson. “We use officials from other bodies to help.”

Another possibility is for some games to be handled by four official crews instead of the preferred five-person crews, although this places additional demands on the smaller crews.

“The keys are different and the responsibility [for each official] increases because you have to search more, ”said Campbell. “The fewer officers, the more you won’t be able to see because you have more responsibility when scanning your keys.

“Going from five to four is a big deal.”

This is especially true for passing games as the fifth official is usually the back judge, whose job it is to work with the wing officials to cover the games in the field.

“But with a four-person crew, you only have the two [wing] Officials out there so something right in the middle of the field is harder, ”Ferguson said. “Besides, we’re not as young as we used to be. We’re an aging board, so it’s easier to get out of position at 62 than at 32. And the kids seem to be getting faster every year. “

The longer-term solution to this annual dilemma is to recruit new officials, but that has been a difficult challenge in Maine and beyond.

“In my opinion, the main reason people are not drawn to office is because social media is very quick to criticize,” said Campbell, adding that people are quick to criticize.

“But what makes you keep coming back is the love of games, sports and the joy I get when I see the kids getting it, having fun and just having this whole experience.”

Campbell added that teamwork in office creates a unique level of camaraderie among colleagues.

“You go out with four other guys on a Friday night and bring conversations from all walks of life with you,” he said. “Everyone has a story to tell on the way to the game, and on the way back you share the experience of what you’ve just been through.”

Anyone wishing to attend the Maine Association of Football Officials Bangor Chapter’s free budding officials course can register with Campbell at 207-478-0822 or [email protected]

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