Seattle area high school basketball referees make push for new recruits amid estimated ’40 percent’ drop

As the condensed 2021 high school sports season continues across Washington, basketball officials in the greater Seattle area are making a final push to recruit new referees to their ranks. 

The number of referees are down an estimated 38 percent since the outset of the pandemic across all sports, according to the Washington Officials Association. Basketball officials in the Puget Sound anticipate a similar drop.

“Given the staggered starts/finishes of various leagues, it will help,” Pacific Northwest Basketball Officials Association recruiting committee member Brian Riseland said, “but many of our officials officiate multiple sports and will be in demand on the baseball fields and soccer pitches as well.”

Officials say new referees 16 and older who undergo proper training could see the court as early as May.

Riseland said the PNBOA, which provides referees for boys and girls C-team, JV and varsity games from Kent to Lynwood, made a recruiting push in November and brought in it its “largest recruiting class in years.” Those officials could hit the hardwood by mid-April for a slew of AAU tournaments. 

But that won’t mitigate what is expected to be a high turnover of officials opting out of the season due to COVID concerns.

“In terms of the peril now, it’s real, but this class we’ll need them for next year,” Riseland said.

The pandemic has intensified a high school sports referee shortage that mirrors a nationwide trend in recent years.

In July, Washington Officials Association executive director Todd Stordahl said more than 30 percent of active officials did not feel comfortable doing their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.

Several officials contracted the virus at state tournaments in Tacoma and Yakima in March 2019 and WIAA hall of fame basketball official Steve Colby died of coronavirus complications March 17, 2020 at age 72, sending shockwaves through the officiating community. He contracted the virus before the pandemic brought on state and nationwide shutdowns, and long before mask mandates were implemented.

With COVID-19 protocols in place, and high school sports back with safety guidelines outlined by the Washington State Department of Health, the WOA is upping its recruitment of new officials.

Prospective referees must sign up for training on the PNBOA website. Officials can make up to $60 per high school game, but are expected to pay annual dues ($95) and buy their own equipment. 

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