COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Kurt Schooley has been a high school official for more than 20 years – 15 of those have been on the football field.
“You have to enjoy it. You have to love it to an extent,” he said. “I think anybody can get into officiating. It definitely takes a passion to do it or want to do it.”
But right now, that passion seems to be dwindling in Ohio as high school officials are hard to find.
And it has some schools and leagues scrambling with less than four weeks away from the 2022 high school football season.
“That is very real. We get those types of emails from assigners all the time. I’ve gotten a handful already for scrimmages,” Schooley said. “I know certain leagues have moved from playing on Friday nights to playing on Thursdays and playing on Saturdays just because there are not enough officials around to have everybody play on Friday nights.”
There are many factors that go into the shortage, but in talking with Schooley and OHSAA Director of Officiating Beau Rugg, three areas stand out.
First: The verbal animosity officials receive from fans, parents, and even players and coaches.
“Who wants to say, ‘I want to do that so they can yell at me’!?” Rugg said. “Nobody wants that.”
Second: The ancillary costs of being an official.
“Sometimes it is, ‘I don’t want to deal with driving to schools and the cost of gas,’” Schooley shared as potential reasons. “You have to have your uniforms. If you do it multiple nights per week you have to have multiple sets of uniforms. So those things add up.”
And third, which is really a culmination of most of the factors is pay: Is it all worth it for what little money an official makes?
In northeast Ohio, the Cleveland Football Officials Association (CFOA) is working to tackle this issue by asking local athletic directors and league commissioners for a raise – and there has been talk about a possible boycott of week one.
The CFOA is having a meeting this week with school officials to try to hash out a solution – and Rugg will be there as well, even though the OHSAA doesn’t pay officials for regular season games. That comes down to the leagues and schools.
“I think it’s going to be okay. We never want to get to a point where someone is angry enough to where you know they’ve got to go one way or the other,” Rugg said. “But officiating is another one of those advocations that people don’t do it for the money and so sometimes everybody takes that for granted and then you go 30 years and people say, ‘Gosh, we are way behind we have to do something.’ And getting them to talk and do it and get on the right plane is what that is about.”
“Some leagues in central Ohio have increased you know their pay for football and basketball officials this year so that’s been great to see,” Schooley said. “[It’s] long overdue.”
So, why has Schooley done this for so many years, making on average $65 to $80 on a Friday night?
“I love it. I enjoy it. It’s all about focusing on the game at hand and the players at hand,” he said.
“That’s what we have in high school sports is you’re doing it for these students who are out here,” Rugg added.
To learn more about becoming an official, click here.