In Wisconsin, Teens Are Helping to Fill Officiating Gaps for Their Own Schools

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Two high schools in Wisconsin's Great Northern Conference have turned to students to help ease the officiating shortage.

As reported by CBS affiliate WSAW in Wausau, Northland Pines High School senior Cody Vojta and freshman Dylan Kleffman, and Rhinelander High School junior Dominic Lehmann have been trying their hand at officiating various sports.

“Being able to help out is always something that I’m willing and want to do,” Vojta told WSAW, “but I mean, just being around the sport that’s kind of my main thing and it opens up a lot of different avenues for things”

According to WSAW's Ben Helwig, Vojta is a soccer player at Northland Pines, but just this year began officiating games. Kleffman began umpiring both baseball and softball games. Both are the sons of active officials, who offered their encouragement.

“He told me a couple of years ago that he started officiating when he was in high school through the MHSA up in Michigan,” said Kleffman said of his father. “He told me to see if the WIAA had a program like that.”

Both he and Vojta made the initiative to ask their athletic director for direction on how they can get involved, Helwig reported, adding the guidance led them to some training videos through the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association.

"There are some videos that the WIAA provides and you can watch those,” said Vojta. “Then you have to take like a test then once you pass the test, you’re pretty much certified.”

Lehmann experience a different, quite literal calling. “I was called one day at work asking if I’d officiate because we needed someone else and we needed to rotate people in and try and get the younger generation going,” he told WSAW. “I said yeah because, I don’t know, it seemed interesting.”

Lehmann has trained to officiate track meets alongside 55-year veteran Jim Alfonso. “I got to interact with him,” Lehmann said “He pretty much got to teach me what to do and what I’m doing to start so like the ‘Ready, set’ and firing and what else to do.”

Alfonso officiates a wide variety of sports. He’s also been training young officials for many years, even starting a program back in his teaching days in Antigo that helped equip those inexperienced trainees, several of which are working varsity-level events now.

"There’s a major plus in training young officials while still in school," Helwig reported. "It can help address the official shortage that’s been affecting the state for several years now. Klefman says it is a time commitment, but he thinks the more people who are interested may bring our a higher number of participants.

"The other side is awareness. Many high school students may not know that this is a potential avenue for them. Per Vojta’s advice, he says just reach out to an athletic director to try and get going in the right direction."

“Reach out to your high school AD for whoever organizes your reffing in your area and definitely work towards getting your officials’ license,” Vojta said, as reported by WSAW. “Get out there. It’s a ton of fun.”

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