Women Are Largely Untapped Resource In Alleviating Youth Sports Referee Shortage – Forbes

Ever since the Journal News in Westchester County, N.Y., in May ran an excellent piece on the referee shortage in school sports, I’ve seen a lot of other pieces designed to localize the ongoing crisis in finding enough officials to staff youth games. These stories give reasons similar to what the Journal News reported as why there is a referee shortage (I’ve added the links):

The key culprits for the decline include:

Like climate change, except less potentially fatal and floody, the youth sports officials shortage is something that has been warned about for years, with examples of its devastating effects there if you look, but with action to do something about it slow to come. I posted my first piece about it in 2010, and went back to this well in 2014 (the big idea at the time was waiving child-labor laws to get more teens to serve as officials) and 2015. Actually, I wrote about one solution to this crisis as far back as 2009: massive unemployment in all other sectors of the economy.

There is one idea to alleviate the officials’ shortage that I haven’t covered: finding a way to get more women involved in officiating, and not just for girls’ sports. Here is an example from the Bend (Ore.) Bulletin on how that’s making a difference in boys basketball in Oregon:

Over the past five years, the number of high school sports officials in Oregon has decreased by 16 percent, according to a joint release by the Oregon School Activities Association and the Oregon Athletic Officials Association. Games have been canceled for lack of officials, more so at the subvarsity levels.

In Central Oregon, a welcome rise in the number of female basketball officials, ranging in age from 19 to 65, has resulted in a significant uptick in the overall availability of referees.

As longtime [Central Oregon Basketball Officials Association] commissioner Bob Reichert puts it: “We felt like we kind of hit the mother lode this year with our female officials.”

“When we got some of these gals in, I really felt like we were blessed,” says Reichert, whose association currently boasts 10 women referees, by far the most ever for the COBOA. “They have playing experience in college, and some of them have progressed so quickly that it’s been really heartwarming to see.”

Why has it taken so long to see the value in women as referees in all youth sports events? A theory proffered in this GoErie.com story about female officials is that many drop out when they have families. However, there are two issues that are more pernicious.

First, there is not exactly wide societal acceptance of, or familiarity with, female referees in male sports — only three have ever worked in the NBA, only one is in the NFL, and none are in Major League Baseball. Of course, when few are in the lower reaches of the sport, few are going to be at the pro level. New York City had its first all-female referee crew at a boys basketball game in… December 2016. (You might have done a double-take when the Oregon commissioner referred to adult woman officials as “gals.”)

Lauren Holtkamp is the third women to work as an NBA referee, and the only one doing so currently. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

And the second issue grows out of the first: that female referees stepping into male sports risk being on the receiving end of greater abuse than their male colleagues. (Just like what happens with female sportswriters.) In another story on the youth sports officials shortage, the Journal News made just that point:

The abuse can be worse for female officials, who are often the target of sexist comments from disgruntled fans.

“I’ve had a mix and heard everything. Sometimes it’s hurtful, and maybe that’s why some women don’t stick with it,” said Suzanne Gunn, 52, a Washingtonville-based official who has been calling soccer, basketball and lacrosse games for 14 years. “You just have to try your best to tune it out. I feel we’re part of a team as officials. Male or female, we all wear the stripes together.”

If I had the solution that would result in all men accepting and embracing women as necessary, non-threatening presences in, well, everything, I’d offer it here. But organizations, from state high school associations to the volunteers in the kiddie soccer league, need to think about how to ensure women feel welcomed in youth sports, in all jobs beyond buying the after-game snacks, if they want to stop scrambling to find officials.

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