Green Bay Officials Association seeking candidates
By Joshua Staloch
Imagine what youth sports might look like without referees, officials or umpires.
Put aside the jokes about vision impairment, the speculation over missed pass interference calls and the 2012 Packers/Seahawks “Fail Mary” game.
Officiating crews are an integral part of athletics at any level.
Without them, games don’t work.
With that in mind, Tom Senecal, president of the Green Bay Officials Association (GBOA), has a simple question for the dedicated fans who show up to support high school and youth sports in the area.
“Why not you?” asked Senecal. “I know you’ve thought about it, so, again, why not you?”
The GBOA is currently about 100 members short of where it would like to be for staffing games with as many officials as possible.
This shortage is starting to make its way onto the field.
Under optimal conditions, football games have five or six officials on hand but are now making do with four.
“Quite frankly, I feel like I can forget about recruiting for right now,” said Senecal, who has been with the organization since 1993. “I’m worried about retention. The average age of our football officials is about 60. How do I make sure I get them through this season and then bring them back again next year?”
The phenomenon isn’t confined to our area, either.
Athletic directors at high schools across the country are finding it harder and harder to meet the officiating needs of all their sports programs for freshman, junior varsity and varsity ranks.
Why aren’t folks turning out to call games in their spare time?
For starters, there’s not a lot of glamour to the job.
Not too long ago, being an official was regarded as a position which commanded a certain level of respect from athletes, parents and fans.
This has changed in recent years, as the men and women in the striped shirts are now subjected to an unacceptable level of crowd participation in what they are trying to do on the field or in the gym.
Some fans/coaches feel they have the green light to tell officials what they are thinking at any given moment.
At the professional level, officiating is a full-time career and those who do it get trained in the art of having thick skin, but the crews who work youth games are men and women who do it for the love of the game.
They travel all over the state throughout the school year – for not a ton of money – spending time away from their families to give back to their communities.
There’s also been a change in overall lifestyle keeping people from getting involved.
The average workday seems to be getting longer, commuting isn’t becoming easier and there’s not a lot of time for getting out of the house after a shift in the middle of the week to referee a basketball game.
The decision to get involved in officiating has to come from a genuine desire to help with youth sports – those outside-the-classroom activities which are staffed primarily by adults who are volunteering their time.
“It’s the contributory feeling you get from doing something in your community,” Senecal commented. “It’s also about staying young by being close to the games, being out on the grass or running up the sidelines.”
There’s also the camaraderie that comes into play amongst the crews.
Officiating a football game on a Friday night with three or four of your best friends and then driving 30 minutes back home are important rituals.
Friendships forged between officials often last for decades.
Nobody wants to see a day when coaches on the sidelines of youth sporting events are calling penalties, deciding the spot of the ball or tossing up a game’s opening jump ball.
To avoid this, officiating numbers must improve.
“The licensed official’s community could use your help,” said Senecal, now in his 21st year as the group’s president. “If you would like to contribute to your community and the continuing education of our student-athletes, and can handle an outstanding, feel-good life experience, come give us a hand. Both women and men officials are desperately needed.”
To find out more information or to get started, Senecal can be contacted directly at [email protected].