National crisis concerns regional officials

The association relies heavily on WSU and UI students to officiate various skill levels of football


RACHEL SUN | The Daily Evergreen

Karl Johanson, Assigning Secretary of the Southeastern Washington Football Ofiicials Association, talks about the importance of safety. Referees are trained to look out for safety concerns during games.

JACOB MOORE, Former Evergreen sports editor

High turnover and constant training of new football referees have plagued the nation and some parts of Washington. Referees in the Pullman area have not experienced the brunt of this crisis, but many are concerned that it’s only a matter of time.

More than 20 officials met at Pullman High School for the first official recruitment meeting last week. Karl Johanson, assigning secretary of the Southeastern Washington Football Officials Association, said the turnout was positive, but he is hoping for more recruits.

“We are proud of the fact that many [students] continue officiating once they graduate and find a job,” Johanson said. “However, we have very few officials that begin officiating in their 30s and 40s, so our year-after-year average keeps increasing.”

The need for more recruits continues to go up because 20 percent of the officials are over the age of 60, Johanson said. Combining this need during the current crisis makes for a tricky situation, he said.

President Gary Boone said he’s noticed a lack of officials, too. Boone, who has been officiating for about two decades, indicated that lack of pay might be an issue for college students.

“I’ve noticed it a lot,” he said. “I’m 60 years old and Karl’s 75, but we love what we do.”

Students looking to officiate often do not do it for the money, but for the experience, Boone said.

“Study after study … reveals that the most important factors determining success are the depth and breadth of a student’s involvement in school-sponsored activities, including athletics,” Johanson said.

Tim Lewis, who previously worked as an official for University Recreation and is entering his second year with the association, said he also doesn’t officiate for the money. Instead, he does it out of love of his job.

Washington is one of two states with an independent association of sports officials and is the only one that has a partnership with the National Association of Sports Officials.

The state is also the only one with a comprehensive system of training and observation that ranks officials in all of the sports sponsored by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, Johanson said.

During the first officials meeting last week, Johanson told returners and newcomers that the biggest concern is safety.

A number of rule changes took up the first 20 minutes, with the concern of safety becoming more of a priority in football. Johanson admitted there was more changes to rules this year than in over a decade.

RACHEL SUN | The Daily Evergreen
Returning and new officials listen to the updated rule changes during the first recruitment meeting Tuesday at Pullman High School.

“For those of you that grew up in that era,” Johanson said, “that era is over.”

Boone also emphasized the importance of safety.

“I’ll stop the game if I hear one of these kids say their head hurts,” Boone said. “I would think as a ref, yeah, the rules are important, but in your mind, you better be thinking about the safety.”

Johanson, Boone and many others advocate for students at WSU and UI to take up this opportunity if they too have a passion for officiating. Even if it’s only for a few years, Boone said, it’s a good way to build a resume and a unique way to watch a football game.

The second officials meeting takes place at 6:30 p.m. tonight at Pullman High School.