Finding officials has been challenging for athletic directors

Mark Schoenfelder of Greenville gets ready to officiate a Reed City playoff game earlier this season. (Herald Review photo/John Raffel)

Mark Schoenfelder of Greenville gets ready to officiate a Reed City playoff game earlier this season. (Herald Review photo/John Raffel)

BIG RAPIDS -- While high school sports remain on lockdown for at least another week, athletic directors are doing everything in their power to recruit more referees for events.

An ongoing theme for some schools during the fall athletic season, referee shortages caused a handful of scheduling conflicts before the shutdown came into effect.

Before the winter season gets the proverbial green light, ADs look to avoid some of these issues in the month to come.

Pine River Athletic Director Shawn Ruppert ran into some official shortages during the fall, and he said he expects to run into a similar situation in the winter.

"We have had difficulty finding football officials a few times," Ruppert said. "We ended up moving to a new date to play. I do anticipate difficulties finding officials for basketball and baseball -- no one wants to officiate with a mask on."

Jay Wallace, athletic director for Evart Public Schools, also had some issues during the fall season, especially with football games. He even had to move a game from Friday to Saturday earlier in the year.

Evart was already somewhat low on officials prior to the pandemic, so the onset of COVID-19 has given Wallace even more of a challenge to fill some much-needed spots.

Wallace said he thinks a few potential officials were opposed to the idea of having to enforce mask rules, even though that was seldom, if ever, the case during the football season.

"I think many of them originally thought they would have to police the masks during competition and did not want the responsibility," Wallace said. "We were thin on officials the last couple of years. You take out a couple due to COVID concerns and that is enough to tip the scales."

Big Rapids Athletic Director Dawn Thompson also said she was experiencing a slight referee shortage before COVID, and since its continued spread, the shortage has not gotten any better.

Thompson has had to move a few dates around as well, and she said soccer was the most difficult sport during the fall to recruit officials.

"Normally we always had three at a game, but changing our game times to earlier in the evening made that more difficult," Thompson said.

Looking ahead to the winter, the Cardinal AD said she is still concerned about filling spots, but added that she will continue to work with the school's assignor and hope for the best.

Thompson is prepared to improvise should it be deemed necessary when the time comes.

"If we are unable to find officials for an event, we will need to be flexible with our schedule and reschedule," Thompson said.

As it stands, the current lockdown put in place by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is scheduled to expire Dec. 9.