High school sports trying to cope with shortage of officials
Some football games might have to move off Fridays since there aren’t enough crews to cover all of them
The math is simple.
Some weeks early in the high school football season there are 38 scheduled games.
The San Diego County Football Officials Association (SDCFOA) has only 30, maybe 32 crews.
Simply stated, there aren’t enough officials to work every game.
Attrition, old age, military deployments, new jobs, family obligations, injuries, retirement, advancement to the college ranks, fan harassment, even the untimely deaths of two active SDCFOA members have left a shortage of qualified officials. In San Diego, 25 officials have not returned from last season, including five crew chiefs.
Some weeks as many as six games will have to be moved from Friday to Thursday or Saturday.
“I’m asking everyone to chip in,” said Joe Heinz, commissioner of the CIF San Diego Section. “I’m meeting with the heads of the conferences and asking for volunteers.
“I’m not pressuring anyone because everyone understands the situation. Everyone is willing to help. We want this to be equitable. We want everyone to take a turn.
“This isn’t as easy as people think. Gate receipts, concessions, staffing are all involved.
“The SDCOFA is one of the top organizations in the country. It’s so well run. They just don’t have enough bodies for everyone to play on Friday.”
The situation was similar last season, but some games were canceled because of COVID-19, so moving games to Thursday or Saturday was held to a minimum.
There’s no way to know if that will happen again, and the hope is for all games to be played.
The SDCFOA has 197 certified members, those with at least two full years of officiating experience and who have passed the requisite exams.
The organization not only does high school varsity games, but freshmen and JV games as well as at the Pop Warner level.
That 197 number is down nearly 14 percent from 228 members in 2017.
And it’s not just football. The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) reports a decline of 50,000 individuals across all sports since the 2018-19 season.
Dana Pappas, the director of officiating services for the NFHS, said 43 states reported a decline in officials.
With the shortage in San Diego, Steve Coover — one of the most respected officials in the state and the CIF State Football Rules Interpreter — is returning to the field.
The former principal at Mount Miguel High, Coover is a 45-year member of the SDCFOA, spent 25 years as a crew chief, has worked 20 CIF semifinals, six championship games and a State Championship.
Now 67, he’s also involved with college officiating and has spent 14 years as an area scout for the NFL.
“We have a shortage of officials, and we won’t throw the young guys out there if they’re not ready,” Coover said.
Coover originally was coaxed into officiating by his father.
“I was working at 31 Flavors, making $3 an hour when my dad — who was a football official — asked if I’d like to try officiating,” Coover said. “I found I could make $20 cash a game working Pop Warner on a Saturday. It was an easy decision.
“I want to do my part now. I started as a high school official. I want to end my career as a high school official.”
Coover said he won’t return as a crew chief.
The SDCFOA has a draft with crew chiefs choosing their partners based on positions on a five-man crew.
Coover will return as a head linesman on Matt Starr’s crew, a group that includes veterans Art Warren and Don Clay along with Toby Wilson, who is considered one of the best young officials.
The crews drafted by the crew chief stay together for the entire season.
“A crew is like being in the military,” Coover said. “We’re like a platoon. We’re in the same club. We work together.
“We constantly talk about our mistakes and what we did correctly. We review film.
“When I take the field, my resume doesn’t mean a thing. As an official, you’re only as good as your last game.”
Warren, the former athletic director at San Pasqual High, is one of the most respected baseball umpires in the county. He’ll work as the umpire on Starr’s crew.
“We have a really experienced group,” said Warren, the catcher on USIU’s NAIA 1973 NAIA championship baseball team.
“Moving games to Thursday and Saturday isn’t ideal because we may have to split up crews, but we’ll get every game covered.
“That’s much better than playing every game on Friday and working a man short.”
Founded in 1974, the SDCFOA has several father-and-son combos — Bob and Mike Duggan, Erick and Erick Jr. Peterman, Ed and Sergio De Los Reyes, Rick and Jimmy Christensen as well as David Rios and sons Alec and Michael.
There are two women — Lorri Stratton and Kerry Huggins, whose husband James is also a member.
Officials are paid $79 for a varsity game and a little less for the JV contest. If a person is willing to work a freshmen game on Thursday and Pop Warner games Saturday, it can be a $400 weekend.
One of the newer officials is Scott Busskohl, entering his second year. The 56-year-old worked mainly at the youth level last season.
“There is a steep learning curve, and it took me a while to get into a flow,” Busskohl said. “I played in high school and watched football my whole life. But officiating is a confidence thing. For some, that comes more quickly than others.
“I worked one JV game last season, and that told me I need more time. The game — from the youth level, to JV, to varsity — picks up speed.
“I’ll get there, but I need more work.”
The SDCFOA has a history of sending its members to the next level, and of giving back.
Earlier this month at the La Costa Canyon Passing Tournament, a 7-on-7 event, former NFL officials Mike and Don Carey and Garth DeFelice as well as current NFL officials Tim Podraza, Clay Reynard and Danny Short — all SDCFOA members — were on hand to observe and hand out advice to the officials working the event.
“This is what we’re all about,” said Don Carey. “We’re not out here to embarrass anyone. We’re here to observe, give out advice, tips.
“We’ll point out what a person did wrong, but we’ll also tell them if they did a good job. If we can help someone even in the smallest bit, it’s a good day.”
Mike Weseloh, who recently retired after a long career as a Pac-12 football official, was also at LCC. Weseloh worked the last two seasons with the SDCFOA, but will step aside this season.
“I want to work with the younger crews,” Weseloh said. “I don’t want to be on the field, but I want to go to games, be on the sidelines, take notes, talk to people.
“I don’t care if I go to an eight-man game or a game with two winless teams. I want to help our people get better.
“If they see we have their backs, are willing to work with them, maybe we can retain more officials.”
The high school football season kicks off Aug. 19 and crews are set. But Gary Gittelson, the head of recruitment and retention for the SDCFOA, said it’s never too late to join the association.
Gittelson can be reached at (619) 431-0459 or at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.sdcfoa.org.
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