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CHSAA introduces pay increase to officials, hoping to attract more refs

Vinny Calvo officiates during Twin Peaks Charter Academy girls basketball's home game on Monday. (Alissa Noe/
Vinny Calvo officiates during Twin Peaks Charter Academy girls basketball’s home game on Monday. (Alissa Noe/

Reality hit hard this fall when game after game, especially in football, was canceled due to a lack of high school officials across Colorado.

That was the wake-up call that parents and fans needed.

In the months since, the Colorado High School Activities Association has worked to find solutions to the referee shortage that has plagued not just its own state, but states all across the nation. It took the first step in a positive direction to filling those holes at the end of last year.

“We started a campaign on November 1 called ‘You look good in stripes.’ That’s for new officials,” said Mike Book, CHSAA’s assistant commissioner overseeing officials. “We made a call-to-action link to make it very simple for people that are interested to click a link, fill in their contact information and then that comes to us. And then we can distribute that personally to each area director for each sport and get them started in the registration process of becoming an official. That hadn’t been around before.”

This week, Colorado’s high school legislative body took another meaningful leap in not only attracting but retaining those new officials when, in a press release, it announced that it would offer a pay raise to officials across the board over a three-year period, starting with the 2023-24 school year.

“The increases over the next three years will ultimately result in about a 48% total increase in pay to officials by year three,” the release said. “To help schools handle the increased budget demands, as well as get officials’ pay in each sport where it needs to be, there will be a gradual annual increase across all sports, ranging from 40-60% per sport.”

In addition to the wage increase, CHSAA also vowed to pay for all dues and uniforms to take that burden off of incoming officials — costs that had typically taken three to four worked games to pay off. Prior to these changes, Colorado ranked 47th to 49th in officials’ pay for any given year. Now, the state will be more competitive on a national scale.

When CHSAA first began its campaign a few months ago, the legislative body hoped to sign 500 new officials. To date, it’s added 615.

The raise came as a welcome change for local officials like Vinny Calvo and Wayne Reyburn, who have been working high school games for 14 years and eight years, respectively. These seasoned pros know just what it takes to be a referee or umpire.

Wayne Raybern officiates at Fairview High School on Tuesday night.
Wayne Rayburn officiates at Fairview High School on Tuesday night.

It’s not easy.


“When I came into area nine, which is Boulder and Longmont, they had over 100 officials,” Reyburn said. “I think now, it’s probably half of that. Guys are getting older. Newer officials don’t want to take the abuse, so they come in and come out quick. I think what we’ve seen is just the respect, even from the players, has gone down in the last seven, eight years.

“There’s just been a lot of various, different reasons, but a lot of guys are dropping out. It’s a hard thing to do if you’re getting yelled at for an hour and a half every night. I’ve been doing a lot more double games. There’s not a lot of just single varsity coming in. You’re just working more games. I think in December, I worked 17 games and 14 days.”

Both Reyburn and Calvo entered the officiating world as a way to give back to their communities, either through their kids or as part of the school district they used to attend themselves. Calvo, who played basketball for Centaurus in the 80’s, made just $63.87 per game this year.

That figure didn’t account for the average 30-minute drive to and from the games, the 45 minutes of preparation before or the meetings and film review officials often undergo to improve their craft.

Both men hope the pay increase will help retain the new officials CHSAA has brought in and will decrease burnout across the board, essentially eliminating the need to work double games. While they hope CHSAA can do more in the future to address the behavior of fans and coaches, they believe this is a promising first step.

“As officials, we have aches and pains on a daily basis, because we’re working so much,” Calvo said. “It’s one of those things that you really don’t do it for the pay, you do it for the love of the game, for the love of the sport and to give back.”

Now, the game is finally giving back to them.