While standing at the booth at AB Show 2022, I was approached by an attendee whose urgency was apparent. He was a high school athletic director and wanted to know whether I truly understood the dire state of the youth sports official shortage. I said I did and mentioned that Athletic Business has actually produced webinars on the topic and that we regularly cover the problem in our newsletter and in our magazine. The man acknowledged this, but persisted, “We need solutions yesterday,” he said. “It’s not enough to just stand around and wring our hands. The future of youth sports is in jeopardy.”
The gentleman gave me his card, and I agreed to speak with him on the matter after the show. The conversation gave me pause, because I know intimately, through our daily coverage of industry news, the reasons for the shortage of officials, and it really doesn’t have anything to do with the student-athletes. As Jay Hammes notes in his column on the topic (page 18), it’s the adults — primarily parents and coaches — who lose their cool as a result of being too caught up in wins and losses. It seems like every other week, a parent assaults a sports official. This fall, we wrote about multiple brawls between parents, coaches and kids on the field of play, and interviewed a football referee who was nearly killed in a post-game attack. Collectively, it’s not a pretty picture.
The topic of that conversation was in stark contrast to the energy of the expo. I’m always struck by the feeling of community among professionals in our industry. The people I spoke with during that week in Orlando are hard workers. They’re passionate, intelligent problem-solvers. All attributes that give me hope that challenges like the shortage of youth sports officials will be surmounted with persistence and creativity.
More problems and changes will undoubtedly emerge in the coming months. Rest assured that in 2023, as is the case every year, it’s our goal at Athletic Business to keep you, our readers, informed on what those new challenges are while also providing a forum to find their solutions.