Shortage of officials puts future of local sports in jeopardy

Photos by Ray Hamill/ – Officials Todd Sanborn, Fred Robinson and Dee Breaux were acknowledged for their work by Eureka and Ferndale players during this year’s basketball season.

By Ray Hamill — Love them or heckle them, officials are every bit as important as the athletes when it comes to local high school, college and community sports.

Without them, there are no games.

And that could be a big problem for many of these sports moving forward, with the number of local officials way down in recent years.

“We really need to let people know we’re in dire need of officials,” said Jon Swanson of the Humboldt Bay Officials Association, who assigns umpiring crews for local high school baseball games, as well as the Humboldt Crabs and B52s. “And that includes Little League. It goes all the way up, and these kids need us out there. If we’re not out there, they’re not going to be playing, plain and simple.”

Swanson, who has been officiating for more than 20 years, says the number of umpires he can call on has dropped from 20 to less than 10 in that time, and that this past high school season was a serious challenge with the number of games, resulting in several games switching days.

“I had all my guys working almost every single day,” Swanson said. “We were lucky we didn’t have a whole lot of JV games.”

The low numbers have been affecting other sports as well, with a noticeable shortage of officials for high school soccer games this year, as well as no officials available for freshmen games in basketball, with coaches having to fill in.

Humboldt Crabs manager Robin Guiver argues with an umpire seconds before being ejected during a recent game.

“I’ve been involved with this for a number of years and it’s always a challenge,” said long-time local basketball and football official Rollin Trehearne “And I think it is a little more every year.”

This year, there was roughly only 50 percent of the usual number of officials for local high school basketball, and they had to work around 150 games of varsity and JV competition in just three weeks.

Trehearne put some of the low numbers down to COVID and the fact the season took place in early summer with many officials having other plans.

He admits, however, that things need to get better.

“Obviously the growth has to come from youth,” he said.

Swanson believes there are opportunities to turn things around and would like to see an officials class start up again at Eureka High, like the one he attended when he went there.

“We need to get this program back in the high schools,” he said. “We’re in a major drought for officials, and we need to do something about it.

“If we don’t have more officials coming out in the next three or four years, there won’t be enough officials to do the games.”

Both Swanson and Trehearne believe it’s a great opportunity for young people who enjoy sports.

“It’s a great way to get exercise and still be a part of the sport,” said Trehearne, who added there are three big benefits he has gotten from being an official. “One is the friendships I’ve made with the people I’ve worked with and for, and some of the friendships I’ve made with the players. 

“Another thing is the chance to have some physical activity and the mental challenge. And then there’s the excitement. There’s nothing like standing in a gym that’s rocking. Other than playing, there’s not a better seat in the house.”

Part of the problem, however, is the changing face of officiating, and the abuse they receive from some fans has grown over the years.

“There’s a whole new generation that don’t want to deal with the parents and even the players,” Swanson said. “I’ve been doing it for more than 20 years and it doesn’t bother me. I’m used to it. But it’s the newer people we need to get on board.

“We’re out there getting exercise. You can’t go wrong. You’ve got the best seat in the house.”

If things don’t improve, however, Swanson warns that things will change.

“I feel bad for the kids, honestly,” he said. “We need more officials. If we don’t get them the kids won’t play. I just want to get the word out there. We need it now. It’s that serious.”

Categories: baseball, Basketball, Football, Soccer, Softball

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3 replies »

  1. Sad but true. I schedule jr high basketball, little & senior league baseball. I’ve always said all fans need to try it just once, only then you’d appreciate what officiating goes thru. 🤔

  2. Carlos is correct. Over the years, as an official, I have had very, very few issues with players, only a couple with coaches. But a few times a season, some parent believes it is there responsibility to makes officials’ lives so miserable it makes referees question if it is worth it. I keep doing it for the kids … but we need young people to step in for us old guys … like Carlos.

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