The dwindling number of qualified officials for student sports has been a topic of concern for decades. The combination of relatively low pay and a notoriety for taking abuse makes the job less than appealing for many, which in turn puts added strain on athletic programming.

Related from AB: No Referees, No Games (October 1990); Officials Shortage a Growing Problem for Prep Football (July 2017)

In his first year as the sole commissioner of the Klamath Soccer Referees Association, Mark Dodson has made the landmark decision to allow high school students to preside over OSAA games. The decision has already generated a lot of interest.

Dodson told the Klamath Falls, Ore., Herald and News, “I believe it is a great idea to begin young … There will be some concern about them officiating, but I think there will be that level of maturity that we can make sure they will bring with them.”

Dodson has said that he prefers to employ student-officials between the ages of 15 and 18 years old, adding that special care will be taken to avoid conflicts of interest.

Said Dodson, “It is an easy job if you want it to be, with some flexibility in the job. I remember having some officials come away with $3,000, $4,000, so that is always a great part.”

In addition to the expanded parameters for officials, the NFHS has adopted several new rules governing the soccer fields, including a clarification to the offsides rule, a change in allowances for moving the ball at the start of play, and a relaxing of the requirements for the approach to a penalty kick.

In the future, Dodson expects to see rules passed that will address safety concerns around headers and corner kicks at the high school level. For now, headers are prohibited for players under 12.

“Each year, there is always that attempt to protect the players, and with concussion rules. I always tell my officials to note down anything they see,” said Dodson. “We only stop play if see signs of an injury.”

Dodson is confident that the new recruits will have a positive impact on the sport. “One thing people can expect from us is that we will be on top of things, more than ever. I think that is what people will notice the most, and will make for a better game for everyone,” he said.

Courtney Cameron is Editorial Assistant of Athletic Business.