DENVER (CBS4) – Youth sports in Colorado are in the middle of a crisis.
“It’s a numbers game and you just can’t keep up,” said Tom Robinson, Commissioner and officials liaison for the Colorado High School Athletics Association.
In the last five years, the number of referees for sports offered by CHSAA has dropped, in some cases by double-digit percentages.
Robinson said for the first time the association had to meet with all CHSAA schools to adjust game schedules.
“With the number of games scheduled and the number of officials we had, it didn’t match up,” Robinson told CBS4’s Kelly Werthmann. “We couldn’t get them covered.”
The shortage is also hitting club sports, like the Colorado Storm Soccer program.
“We have more and more games that either have zero referees or not enough referees,” said Marc Francis, a Colorado Storm Soccer coach.
Francis explained an increased number of games is part of the problem, but also the age of some of the referees.
“About 50 percent of our referees are under 18 and we get a high turnover,” he said.
There is a wide range of factors playing part in the crisis, Robinson explained. He conducted surveys with current and former officials the past two years in an effort to determine why the numbers were dropping.
Among the answers, Robinson said expanding sports programs and schedule conflicts, pay and training fees were in the top ten. Another factor: poor sportsmanship. Players, coaches and parents have verbally abused many officials during and after games.
“It just becomes something you don’t want to tolerate anymore,” Robinson said.
So how does the problem get fixed? Francis said it starts with respect.
“A simple thing like a coach talking to a referee, saying hello, letting them know they’re part of the event and it’s not us against them,” Francis said.
CHSAA is hoping recruiting efforts will help buck the declining trend next season.
“Because there’s no way to pinpoint it,” Robinson added. “You got to try everything.”
Robinson also told CBS4 the referee shortage is not specific to Colorado, but a crisis that is affecting sports programs across the country and they, too, are looking for answers.
Kelly Werthmann joined the CBS4 team in 2012 as the morning reporter, covering national stories like the Aurora Theater Shooting and devastating Colorado wildfires. She now anchors CBS4 Weekend Morning News and reports during the week. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @KellyCBS4.