Referees in short supply locally
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. Referees are wearing thin. In Glenwood, in Rifle, in Carbondale, in Colorado. Everywhere.This is the case for all sports, but soccer is currently feeling it the most.There are simply not enough to officiate the mass number of soccer games – from youth to high school to college.”It has been an extremely tough problem,” said Dennis Zwickl, who handles referee assignments for Glenwood Springs, Rifle, Coal Ridge, Roaring Fork, Colorado Rocky Mountain School, Basalt and Aspen high schools. Zwickl, a referee himself, usually has 13-15 referees to work with each season. This year, he has five or six.”Some days we have four teams play, and there has to be three refs at each school,” he said. “We just can’t do it.”And it is not like Zwickl can just borrow referees from other areas. They are just as short-handed as he is.”I equate this to trying to plant a corn field without any seeds,” said Russell Brown, a referee who is also in charge of assigning referees to Glenwood Springs Soccer Association club games.Another problem is miscommunication problems with schools and trying to get online with new athletic directors. Sometimes schools change games in their schedules without notifying referees. This has caused postponed games for Roaring Fork, which was forced to postpone its game against Aspen on Tuesday. Rifle would have had to do the same for its game against Steamboat, but a parent volunteered to officiate the game.”If they keep making changes, it really makes it impossible to come up with referees. The schedules they sent me are not what they are holding to,” Zwickl said. “There is no excuse that we can’t touch base.”
The main dilemma though, is that there just aren’t enough referees to go around. Local referee associations are constantly trying to recruit, but their efforts are fruitless. “They don’t seem to want to do it, which I don’t understand because it is so much fun. I find it very enjoyable. It is challenging,” said Steve Carter, a ref and Colorado High School Activities Association soccer area director for Rio Blanco, Garfield, Eagle, Pitkin and Lake counties. “When I have asked people about it, they look at me like I have suggested the craziest thing in the world.”The Glenwood Springs Soccer Association even offers to pay for the required training sessions and recertification classes.The gesture has helped a little, but mostly brings in new referees who have limitations.”In our area, there are 27 registered refs. Some of those only do high school and they are so busy, they can’t help us out,” Brown said. “Twelve of those are soccer players at the club level or high school. The problem is they are playing or out of town to play and are of no use.”Others are coaches or parents, who have obligations to coach their teams or watch their kids when they are playing instead of refereeing.
At least the younger referees are building a core for the future.”That is the only way this is going to get better, get the parents, brothers, sisters, former players, involved and to give back to the community,” Zwickl said. “If you were a soccer player, you need to be a ref so kids can play like you did.”Carter is also hoping that more college-age former players or recent high school graduates who still live in the area will start refereeing.”I really wish that kids that have graduated from high school would try,” he said. “They know the game. The best referees are 25 to 28 years old and they have played before, they are fast, agile, and they know the tricks. I don’t know how to get them to come out.”Zwickl and Carter both got into refereeing when their kids played. In fact, Zwickl said that at least one parent for each club team was required to become a referee.”Youth clubs need to start rebuilding the referees and making it mandatory for at least one parent on each club to get certified,” he said. “And clubs need to enforce that.”
Zwickl said it is necessary to have three referees at each high school game, to keep up the speed of the match, to call games fairly and to minimize injuries. He also says that he has talked to schools about changing games to Mondays through Thursdays and Saturdays instead of just Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays to spread them out more. That has not happened.Therefore, the only solution is more referees.Once a referee gets certified, they will usually start on the sidelines of youth club games. “We try and get the new refs to work the side, watch the center ref and learn from them,” Brown said.After a year or two of youth experience, on the sidelines and as the main referee, the new referees should be ready for all levels.At the club level, referees make around $20 a game. For high school junior varsity, the rate increases to around $30 and goes up to around $45 for varsity.Not a bad night’s work, but that is not the main reason most referees do what they do.”Those of us that do it, do it because it is enjoyable,” Carter said.If more people don’t get into the system, games will continue to be postponed or even canceled. Brown also has another solution.”Some weekends, I have 30 slots to fill,” he said. “If I can’t find refs, I fill in and then sometimes we have to pull parents off the sidelines.”
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