Ongoing referee shortage continues to impact high school football

Published: Sep. 1, 2023 at 4:28 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 2, 2023 at 1:13 AM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - High school football is back in full swing in the valley and around Virginia however one challenge on the gridiron this year is the on-going referee shortage in the region and around the state.

The Piedmont Valley Football Officials Association covers all high schools in the Shenandoah Valley and Piedmont regions. Tim Rawley is a head linesman who has been an official with the PVFOA for 15 years.

He said that while the shortage is not as dire as it was at the height of the COVID pandemic the PVFOA currently has just 101 officials and ideally it would like to be at around 140.

“On a typical Friday night we have 13 to 15 games and we usually try to run six man crews which is easily 75 people. Every once in a while we’ll have a night with 16 or 17 games which puts you over 100 people already which means we’re already lacking in numbers,” said Rawley.

Rawley said the PVFOA believes it should be able to cover all of the area’s games this year but adjustments may have to be made. For instance Strasburg and Broadway High School played their Week 2 game on Thursday instead of Friday to ensure there would be enough officials available.

“Fortunately we’ve got some really good ADs in this area so when we are lacking they can move games around to Thursday nights or Saturdays sometimes we just got to do what we’ve got to do. Every once in a while we’ll do two games on a Friday night, we’ll do a game in the early afternoon and then go do a game at the normal time around 7,” said Rawley. “We have people that pull muscles and have job situations so there are always people who are blocked out and can’t work on a given Friday so you want to have that buffer of 20 or 30 officials.”

The PVFOA has also made staffing adjustments to make sure there are enough refs on the field each Friday.

“Even with the rookies we’ve gotten this past season, we’ve got about 14.Actually last week, week one, we had about five of them on the field. Ideally you wouldn’t see the varsity field until you’re in year 3 or 4 but we’ve had to fill in spots because of just the shortage,” said Rawley.

Rawley said that there are many things that have factored into the shortage.

“Our numbers have gone down because we have some older officials who are retiring, they’ve been doing it for 30 or 40 years so their time is coming to an end. I think it’s everything from dealing with fans, parents, to sometimes coaches,” said Rawley. “It’s just a whole combination of different things, I think people are too busy in general in life, we just don’t seem like we have the time to do it. It is a little bit of a time commitment but it is a lot of fun.”

Those interested in becoming an official will have to take a test through the National Federation of High School Athletics and get registered through the VHSL. They would receive rule books and an officials handbook as well as receive on the field training.

Anyone interested in signing up to become an official can do so here.