(WCIA) — The IHSA has canceled their 2020 Officials Conference due to COVID-19, but the pandemic isn’t the only thing affecting high school officials in Illinois. Every year, more and more officials are hanging up their whistles, and their replacements are nowhere to be found.
“It used to be when I started it took you about seven or eight years to get your first varsity game and now there’s guys getting varsity games in their second year,” says longtime IHSA official Keith Johnson.
Johnson just completed his 45th year of officiating, and has seen it all. However, he’s worried that if things don’t change, more games are on the chopping block.
“The dire need is really at the lower levels,” says Johnson. “The junior high and the freshman games. Those are the games that have been canceled for lack of officials.”
A survey conducted by the National Association of Sports Officials shows that 80% of officials quit after their second year. A lot factors into that, but Johnson thinks it boils down to two things.
“We went through a period where coaches were very demonstrative and drove officials out then. I think coaches are much, much better today,” says Johnson. “There’s still the occasional one that’ll ride you up one side and down the other but now it’s the fans.”
At Monticello High School, they’re trying to help ease the relationship.
“I hope, if anything, when we come back as a nation, when we come back as a state, when we come back as a community at Monticello, we can appreciate the game and enjoy watching out kids compete and sit back and say ‘let’s just enjoy watching our kids’ and let the officials do their job, let the coaches do their job and not take it for granted,” says Monticello athletic director Dan Sheehan.
All of this is part of the reason the National Federation of State High School Associations is currently offering their officiating courses for free through July 1st. The IHSA is helping spread the word.
“I think the IHSA recognized they have a problem so yes, I think this is an attempt to help solve or alleviate that situation,” says Johnson.
Johnson estimates the cost to wear the stripes right now is about $150. Officiate two games and you could make that back, or use the money for something else, like Johnson did.
“That’s how I got started, it was beer and pizza money when I went to college. Little did I know that it would evolve into this,” says Johnson.
With the 2020 IHSA conference cancelled this year, they will provide workshops online for