LACEY, Wash. — A new class at North Thurston High School (NTHS) aims to help alleviate a shortage of referees.
This fall, students can choose to take Sports Officiating as an elective.
“We’re seeing games rescheduled all over the place,” Teacher William Garrow said. “Cancellations happen at the lower levels.”
Garrow’s initial class of 25 has learned how to referee football, they’re currently working on basketball, and in the spring they’ll focus on baseball and fastpitch softball.
He hopes some of the students can make money working sporting events during the school year.
“If we don’t do something to attract new officials and make sure the ones we have are appreciated, we’re going to cease to have the opportunities,” Garrow said.
Students learn the rules of the game in a classroom, but spend most of the instruction time on the football field or on the basketball court.
“On the first day I got so nervous I blew my whistle really quiet,” said NTHS junior Lexi Meyer.
She plays volleyball and basketball for the school and sees learning how to officiate as a good way to make money in her spare time.
“Being able to do this in the future, probably for college, having a job would be awesome,” Meyer said.
In addition to learning the rules and how to have the confidence needed to be an official, Garrow said they are preparing students to handle unruly crowds, usually angry parents.
“Confidence is a big part of it,” said Garrow, “Knowing that you’re confident in what you saw and the call that you made.”
He said current officials and coaches are going to speak with the students about how to keep doing their jobs despite hearing from angry fans.
“We can use our whistle early in games to try and limit some of those issues,” said Garrow, “Or if we recognize people in the crowd, there are strategies that we can take to deal with them before they become a problem.”
In a 2020 survey of middle and high school officials, conducted by the National Association of Sports Officials, 55% of officials who quit listed “verbal abuse” as the main reason, 57% of all officials said the problem is getting worse, and 46% said they felt unsafe, or feared for their safety while working as a sports official.