Before officials even step onto a court or a field, the odds are stacked against them.
According to a national study, on average, only two of every 10 new officials come back for a third year. They face adversity, anger, criticism and confrontation. Now, more than ever, that decline could hit close to home.
A shortage of high school athletics referees could soon be a reality in both Kansas and Missouri.
Missouri State High School Activities Association communications director Jason West says the number of officials is declining and the average age is increasing.
“A majority of registered officials are over the age of 50," said West. "We want to take a pro active approach and try to build our numbers up from the younger generations. When the older generation can't make the runs anymore we need people coming up and ready to take on those responsibilities.”
But what is causing that?
In talking with both the Missouri and Kansas high school athletics associations, it seems to boil down to a few common factors: A culture of abuse and lack of respect towards officials in all sports, not advancing through the rankings quickly enough, poor pay, the hours and an increase in games across both states.
“It used to be that you just had varsity and JV," said Fran Martin, the KSHSAA assistant executive director. "Now it’s varsity, JV, freshman and sophomore teams at a lot of our schools. There are more games than there were 15 years ago. Just looking at our number of officials in the past five years, we are down about 500 officials.”
Both states are already taking steps to recruit and retain.
MSHSAA official Kyle Armstrong says one of those involves a program teaching coaches how to behave and respect officials.
"I would say the biggest thing is educating parents and coaches about the rules so they understand when officials make decisions it’s not like we are trying to hurt them," he said. "We have a set of rules that we enforce and we base it on what we see during the game.”
Last year, Missouri went as far as hiring someone with that sole purpose.
“We want them to have the tools and the resources so they can come right out of the gates and have a good experience right away,” said Kenny Seifert.
His title is MSHSAA assistant executive director and that's precisely what he does on a daily basis.
“Working with officials but also schools, administrators and coaches on communicating with officials and things like that,” West said.
Kansas has created a scholarship program where they allow league commissioners to make recommendations for new officials.
“We contact them, find out what they are interested in and then we comp their first year and set them up with a mentor official," Martin said. "We went from having about 12 people our first year to 20 some the second. We just finished our this year and we had 52 people who actually registered.”
Martin says it's an issue that hits home, but it's also nationwide.
“I just got back from our national federation meeting and every state is talking about this issue. Not being able to recruit and retain officials," Martin said.
That's why Kansas and Missouri are doing what they can to keep it from changing the landscape of high school sports for years to come.
Copyright 2017 KCTV (Meredith Corp.). All rights reserved.