High School Students Step Up to Tackle Local Referee Shortage

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Students at Taunton (Mass.) High School are taking an atypical class and tackling the sports officiating shortage head on.

“The reason this all started was our community liaison," said Taunton High School Athletic Director Mark Ottavianelli, as reported by NBC affiliate WJAR in Providence, R.I. "He noticed the lack of officials and the shortage of officials, so he said, 'Why can’t our kids learn how to do this and then become officials,?' "

Wellness teacher Brad Koneski, the school's golf and baseball coach with 17 years of refereeing experience, is the course instructor.

“They asked me two years ago, would you be interested in doing this and it took a little while before they got the class going, but they asked and I’m an official, so I said 'Yeah, sure, I’ll do it,' " said Koneski.

"While the class is geared toward learning the different rules and regulations across different sports, it offers something most don’t, real-world experience, dealing with emotions, and conflict management," WJAR's Kevin Moore reported.

Since Oct. 1, 14 of the 22 students have refereed a game, from youth sports to the high school junior varsity level.

“A number of times we’ve gone to the games and spoken to the parents and said, 'Look these kids are new. They are starting out. Please be patient with them,' " said Ottavianelli.

Junior basketball player Jillian Doherty's youth officiating experience has been positive so far.

“It’s been good. It’s only been younger kids, so they haven’t really had a problem with me," Doherty told WJAR. "It hasn’t been that bad. I haven’t been yelled at or anything. Everyone has been respectful and knew I was new."

But for Travis Johnson, a Taunton basketball and volleyball player, his experience refereeing junior varsity soccer has included the kinds of challenges that have eroded the sports officiating pool nationwide.

Related: NFHS: Officiating Shortage Has Reached Crisis Level

“Getting called slurs," said Johnson. "The captain didn’t like the call, so he was yelling and stuck the middle finger up at me, so I gave him a yellow card and left it alone.”

Despite such challenges, "Johnson enjoys officiating, and is always one of the first to accept a job when called upon, as Taunton High School tries to not only create more officials but the next community role models," Moore reported.

"It’s so important and we stress that — so the goal is for them to ref our youth games, our middle school games, our sub-varsity high school games. And now the kids get to see them and know who they are," Ottavianelli said. "It’s that peer mentor piece that’s just going to develop as this program goes."

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