High school sports referees in short supply as seasons start again amid COVID-19 pandemic

STREAMWOOD, Ill. (WLS) -- As high school sports like football and basketball resume their seasons, COVID-19 is making the search for referees unusually hard.

The Streamwood Sabres have been waiting for their first football practice for many, many months. Forget the snow on the ground, or the fact that the traditional fall sport is playing in March. COVID-19 gets blame, and the virus is also making it tough to find referees for when actual games begin.

"We're running every sport in a four month period," said J.J. Crawford, Maine South High School coach. "It's unheard of. There's not enough refs and not enough facilities."

Dave Lopshire has worked as an official for basketball, football and lacrosse for more than 25 years, and he's seen the average age of officials rise as it gets more difficult to recruit younger referees.

"We need more young officials and we need parents to understand they are learning how to officiate the game," he said.

Lopshire said many referees are opting not to work football or other sports this year to stay safe during the pandemic. Others refuse to wear a mask while running up and down the field.

With lots of different sports overlapping this year due to COVID-19, the demand for referees is even greater. Randy Brickman, who assigns refs for soccer games, said this year is a challenge.

"Even though the schools are playing less, we're having a considerable issue filling games," he said.

Football games start in just over two weeks, and it will be a busy time for many refs. Lopshire is officiating a basketball and then a football game on the same day later this month.

Many schools are aware of the difficulties refs are facing, and treat them with courtesy and respect.
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