‘We are missing games’: Local school district challenged by referee shortages

SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. — The nationwide referee shortage is putting a strain on local school districts in Spokane.

The schools are canceling several sports games because of a lack of referees who can officiate the games.

A local referee recruiter now wants to hire more referees so that students can enjoy games without having them canceled or rescheduled.

Selkirk Middle School student-athletes were left disappointed and scrambling to reschedule a basketball game this week after their game was canceled on Wednesday because no referees were able to officiate.

But this isn’t new. Selkirk Middle School Principal Ty Larsen said they have been dealing with a referee shortage for around three years now.

“We are missing games,” Jim Jacobson, coordinator of marketing and recruiting with Spokane Basketball Officials, said. “We cannot cover all the games that are out there.”

For thousands of basketball games — from third graders to high school varsity — Spokane Basketball Officials are seeing a threat to upend student sports game schedules.

Because of COVID-19, the number of referees for games went down nearly 50 percent.

“We covered over 5,000 games a year at Spokane Basketball Officials,” Jacobson said. “You can imagine losing half of our officials. We struggled with 185 [refs]. We are healthier around 210 and 220 officials. Already, we were down a little bit, then [we] had this happen.”

Despite the recent increase in pay for referees, the organization is still in desperate need of new recruits.

“That’s tough for kids,” Jacobson said. “Kids that want to play… without officials… there’s no game.”

“We’ve seen a decline in the availability of referees for all of our sports,” Larsen said.

Larsen said for baseball games, coaches have been participating as referees.

“[It’s a] disappointment,” Larsen said. “I mean kids are disappointed. They look forward to the game… for the last two weeks when they are practicing, so it’s disappointing.”

The SBO says if you are over 18 years old and have the desire to become a referee, you are good to.

“In SBO, we train you,” Jacobson said. “In [the] old days, we just sent you out with a whistle, and say good luck, but now we provide training.”

Jacobson says the organization has a flexible working schedule.

“[The] signing of actual games are all electronic,” Jacobson said. “You block the calendar for what you pick and choose the time that you are available to work we will sign your games.”

Jacobson says people are asked to go to refspokane.com to apply.

“It’s a lot more fun than people think it is,” Jacobson said. “You work with great people. You get yourself in shape for going up and down the court whatever sports might be. You stay in connect with the game you love and it’s a great way to serve the community.”

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