Organizations working at all levels of the athletics industry are well aware of the danger posed by the shortage of sports officials, and they're now actively looking to find solutions.
According to a release from the National Federation of State High School Associations, more than 75 leaders from about 50 sports organizations will converge in downtown Indianapolis January 26-28 during the NFHS Officials Consortium 2.0 at the Conrad Hotel to continue tackling the problem.
This second consortium serves as a follow-up to the first NFHS Officials Consortium held last April when a similar group of leaders came together to discuss practical solutions.
“It is an honor to continue to collaborate with sports organizations and entities from across the country and at all levels of sport to work together to recruit and retain officials, and to make the sport atmosphere better for all involved.,” said Dana Pappas, NFHS director of officiating services. “We are bringing some new players to Consortium 2.0 to help us spread our message so we can develop a consistent vocabulary within the sport environment with regard to behavioral expectations from youth sports to high school sports and beyond.”
Leaders attending the Consortium – who come from the youth, high school, collegiate and professional levels of sport – plan to discuss additional practical solutions and the application of those solutions with the intent of providing a better atmosphere for not only officials, but players, coaches, parents and spectators as well.
“When Dana Pappas hosted the first NFHS Officials Consortium last year, it was made loud and clear that we need to do something about behavior,” said Dr. Karissa Niehoff, CEO of the NFHS during a Media Availability Session on January 17. “Since then, the NFHS has launched a #BenchBadBehavior campaign. It’s designed to be edgy and it’s designed to be a clear and direct toolkit that is available at www.benchbadbehavior.com.”
“We dedicated time to really develop potential solutions for different organizations to use because we understand within the NFHS family that we’ve got to go bigger and broader than just our state associations because there’s so much overlap with officials,” Pappas said of the first Officials Consortium during the Media Availability Session. “Now what we’re doing is taking those recruitment and retention strategies, and meeting with state association leaders with National Governing Body (NGB) leaders to really talk about how to implement some of the ideas that came out of the first Consortium.
“As a result of all of this has been collaboration, and we are seeing a little bit of an upward trend in the number of officials. But that doesn’t mean that our efforts stop. That means we have to work harder, and we have to accelerate more by keeping our foot on the gas.”
Retired NFL referee Gene Steratore serves as the Consortium’s keynote speaker on Thursday. Steratore, who officiated his first NFL game in 2003 and first NCAA Division I men’s basketball game in 1997 before retiring from both in 2018, currently serves as a rules analyst during CBS’s coverage of the NFL, Southeastern Conference (SEC) football and the NCAA’s Division I men’s basketball tournament. Wearing uniform number 114, Steratore was assigned as the alternate referee for Super Bowl XLIV in Miami when the New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts, 31-17, and the referee for Super Bowl LII in Minnesota when the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots, 41-33. Steratore and his older brother, Tony, are co-owners of Steratore Sanitary Supply in Washington, Pennsylvania.
Other speakers at the Consortium include representatives from the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), Bose Public Affairs Group, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), National Association of Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA), National Association of Sports Officials (NASO)/Referee Enterprises (REI), National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA), Officially Human, Offside, The Pictor Group, various coaches associations, state associations and national governing bodies for Olympic sports – all of which have expressed an interest in coming together to address the growing shortage of officials.
“We are hoping to see results in terms of how officials are treated at events by spectators and in terms of the overall tenor about officials in the media and on social media,” Pappas said. “As we continue these conversations, we have to take the approach that this is a marathon and not a sprint. We are in it for the long haul.”
At the conclusion of the Consortium 2.0, the NFHS intends to communicate different ways that schools, state associations and other sport organizations can work to provide a better atmosphere for sports participants while restoring the health of the officiating pipeline.
For more information on how to become a high school official, please visit www.HighSchoolOfficials.com.