INDIANAPOLIS — A shortage of high school basketball referees across the state is forcing some games to get canceled.
“If we don’t have officials that show up on game night, then we don’t play,” said Brian Lewis, assistant commissioner for IHSAA. “It’s as simple as that.”
A shortage of referees is calling a timeout to basketball games around the state. “In pockets of the state, we don’t have as many officials,” Lewis said.
“Officials are getting older,” Lewis added. “We don’t have as many young people getting into officiating but we’re going through a lot of recruiting efforts to hopefully improve that.”
Despite raising wages, officiating services are struggling.
“There just isn’t enough bodies,” said Matt Arnold, owner of Matt Arnold Officiating Service. “I think on any given weekend we schedule 600 to 700 games on a weekend.”
Some referees point to parents as the reason why.
“One bad apple sometimes makes it bad for everybody,” said Kevin Lewis, a referee for over 35 years. “Just because they paid $5 or $6 to an event, they feel like they’re free to express anything they want to anybody. We try to deal with it and go on but sadly say, that is probably one of the reasons individuals are not getting into officiating.”
Referees are asking parents to set an example.
“We don’t want it to get out of hand,” said Kenny Williams, a referee at Pacers Athletic Center. “At the end of the day, it’s not worth it.”
“They’re human beings and they make mistakes, but without them we lose education-based athletics,” Brian added.
There was a similar shortage during the high school football season and experts say it will be even worse for the spring sports season.
“That’s where it’s really hitting hard because you have rainouts and makeups and there’s only X amount of officials available,” Kevin said. “But guess what? The games just multiply the next day.”
To become a referee, you must be a high school graduate, 18 years old, pass a criminal history check and a rules test.
“For a new official we have ways for them to get a first-year license for free,” Brian said. “Outside of that, it’s $50 for the first year and $70 after that.”