MIAMI — Wanted: football game officials.
As part of a nationwide trend over the past couple years, the number of those fulfilling a passion of overseeing action on the field continues to dwindle.
This is a trend that has been going on for a while,” said Marty Hughes a member of the Northeast Oklahoma Officials Association. “We’ve struggled to recruit new officials, and a lot of that has to do with the climate of how the people in the stands and even some of the coaches treat officials from time to time.
“It’s been difficult and this year has made it even a little more difficult because we generally try to recruit the local colleges like NSU, RSU and places like that. But they are not on campus, so that made it even a little more difficult.
Hughes said the NOOA served 18 schools last year, so on a regular Friday night, there would usually be 10 games involving 50 officials.
Hughes said there were about 80 who paid dues last year (but some of those were guys that just worked junior high games and that nature).
This year so far only 61 who had paid dues. He anticipates — and hopes — that more will take care of that as the season draws near.
“We will be down in our numbers because that is always a difficult thing because we have guys have something come up and replacements are needed,” Hughes said.
He said it is especially difficult for the sub-varsity games because there also will be junior high and JV games during the week.
Hughes said he also handles scheduling for the youth league games in the area.
“We have a lot of gaps to fill,” he said.
He said the association is at about 80% of the numbers from last year “and we scrambled last year because of the trend that we’ve had.”
Hughes said things could get even more difficult if one member of a crew tests positive for COVID-19 and that crew has been together.
“Then we will have to quarantine them for a couple of weeks,” he said.
Bluejacket High School has moved four of its five home football games to Thursday night because of a shortage of game officials.
The Chieftains originally were to have had only one Thursday game — a fall break game at Deer Creek-Lamont — but they’ve backed up games with Chetopa, Kansas, Copan, Welch, Medford and Timberlake one night.
BHS’ only Friday night home game will be its season opener with Cross Christian.
“We’ve encouraged schools to do that if they can because that lets our Friday night crews to double up, then we can use them twice during the week,” Hughes said.
He said its likely that some games will be called using three-man crews while the larger schools will have four officials instead of the usual five on the field.
“While that will complicate things on some Thursday nights, it will relieve the pressure of us getting good crews for all of these schools,” Hughes said.
With three-man crews, there is no back judge and the referee will cover more area on the deeper routes.
There will be a number of COVID precautions.
While not mandatory, officials have the option to wear masks and wear gloves as precautionary measures.
Don't be surprised if you see some officials using electronic whistles.
Instead of being mouth-operated, they utilize a push button.
“The OSSAA (Oklahoma Secondary School Activity Association) has put out a list of recommendations, but it has really left the majority of that in the hands of the individual school districts,” Hughes said. “We will be adjusting as we go. Several of the things they have recommended to us is crews don't ride to the games together and that we dress before we get to the site so the school doesn’t have to provide a locker room for us.”
There also will be changes in the pregame coin toss: there will only be two officials and one representative from each team participating. There also will not be the introductory handshakes.
The team box — where its legal for coaches or players to be during the game — have been expanded from the 25- to the 25-yard line to the 10-yard line each way to allow more social distancing on the sidelines.
It’s recommended that social distancing be maintained during time outs.
If anyone is interested in a career in officiating, reach out to Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org.