If you go
What: New official training sessions
When: 6:30-8:30 p.m., July 31-Aug. 3
Where: Longmont United Hospital, 1950 Mountain View Ave.
LONGMONT — For Doug Ross, a SWAT team commander in Longmont, officiating high school football in the BoCoPreps.com area has been a rewarding side job and passion for 25 years.
Ross has gotten so much out of being a high school football referee that he has since risen to the role of Colorado Football Officials Association's director of high school football officiating for the Boulder/Longmont area. So Ross knows as well as anyone how it has become increasingly difficult to attract officials, both in quantity and quality, to referee prep sports.
And that's not good news for Colorado's high school athletics.
"I think it's an issue that CHSAA (Colorado High School Activities Association) has recognized throughout most of its competitive activities," Ross said. "We've really been falling behind at keeping up with training and providing officials to regulate the competitions. Part of the issue is that people don't necessarily understand that we exist. We're really looking to attract adults with interests in sports and giving back to supporting the youth sports in our state."
According to a memo sent out by CHSAA last fall, the number of officials have steadily decreased over the past five years in all sports except hockey. Baseball saw a 19 percent loss of umpires between the start of the 2011-12 school year to the start of the 2015-16 campaign, and there was a 10 percent drop in the number of officials in all sports across the board.
The Colorado Football Officials Association (CFOA) is broken up into 16 areas throughout the state of Colorado, each with its own local association that provides its own officials. In the Boulder/Longmont area, Ross currently oversees a group of just under 40 officials. In order to effectively staff and cover the area, he said the area would require closer to 50-60 referees.
With varsity football games taking priority, the current shortage of officials is most directly impacting the crew sizes for junior varsity, C-team and freshman level games.
"The biggest shortfall that happens is on Thursdays and Fridays when all the sub-varsity games are being held," Ross said. "There are also varsity games those evenings, so we have to either have officials work both sub-varsity and varsity games, or just have smaller crews for the sub-varsity games. Ideally, we'd have a four-person crew for every game but we're at the point where we're running some sub-varsity games with two-person crews."
Ross said that he and his crews are also focused on educating younger officials to understand that it can be a thankless job, and that fans and spectators are passionate about the game and won't always appreciate the calls in the moment. But also that the end goal is to educate young athletes and, first and foremost, to sustain a safe and equitable environment for the prep athletes.
Ross and his crews are also succession-planning, or trying to get younger officials up to speed to make up or older officials who are reaching an age when they cannot keep up with the physical demands of officiating high school football.
To get involved, all someone needs to do is show up to a training meeting for new officials. Those meetings begin at the end of the month, July 31 through Aug. 3 at Longmont United Hospital, and are free to attend. Meetings start at 6:30 p.m. each evening and provides an introduction to how officiating works, how the high school rules work and will answer any questions.
Every Tuesday starting on Aug. 15, there also will be training meetings during which officials can learn from each others' experiences by providing information on specific rules and other things that came up during the past week's games.