Refs Hanging Up Their Whistles
December 14, 2022
During the summer of 2022, the Chagrin Valley Conference was approached by the Cleveland Football Officials Association. The officials wanted to negotiate for higher pay and threatened to sit out the first game of the season.
“Football across Northeast Ohio was done…They weren’t going to officiate any games week one unless they got a raise,” BHS Athletic Director Ryan Peters said.
The association echoed a larger trend of referees who are unsatisfied with the job. There is a general shortage of referees across all sports, during all seasons, all around the country and pay is only one of the reasons.
Peters, who is also the vice-president of the Chagrin Valley Conference, which is the second-largest conference in Ohio, sympathized with the referees, but also understood the financial constraints.
At the time, football referees were making $70 per game. They wanted a pay raise to $100 per game.
Brian Crummie, President of the Cleveland Football Officials Association, sent local conferences a letter requesting the pay increase.
“In the letter, we sent the results of a survey,” Crummie said. “We sent the survey out to all of our members, asking them if they would be willing to boycott week one of the football season to get our pay increase. The results were 82% for, 18% opposed, which is what we sent to [the conferences].”
We sent the survey out to all of our members, asking them if they would be willing to boycott week one of the football season to get our pay increase. The results were 82% for, 18% opposed, which is what we sent to [the conferences].
— Brian Crummie, President of the Cleveland Football Officials Association
“The goal was never ‘winner takes all’. Our side made it clear to the conferences that we wanted a resolution that both parties would be happy with,” Crummie added.
“The officials deserved their raise, considering that out of 50 states, Ohio is ranked #43 in pay for high school sports officials,” Crummie said.
“Could you imagine what that does to other communities, besides just football? It screws up the band, it screws up cheerleading. Families would go nuts,” Peters said.
“It’s a pretty scary thing, but nobody took them seriously,” he added. “We met with them, took the bull by the horns and said, ‘Listen, we’ll help get you a raise but we’re not gonna be able to get you $100 this year. You have to give us time.’”
Conferences across Northeast Ohio came up with a plan, spearheaded by Peters and Dr. Donald Lewis, commissioner of the Chagrin Valley Conference.
“We got together a group of conference commissioners and athletic directors across Northeast Ohio; there were about 70-80 of us. I pitched that we were going to give [the officials] all a raise and that we were going to do it for every single sport,” Peters stated.
“To tell our athletes and cheerleaders that we don’t have a game because we don’t have officials? That’s selfish,” Lewis said to the officials during the negotiations.
In the end, the officials were promised incremental raises.
First, referees in every sport received a $10 pay raise this year; $80 per game. Then, they’ll receive a $10 increase every two years, until year five, in which they’ll have achieved their $100 per game goal, and the parties will meet again to reassess the agreement.
Another part of the deal was that the football officials association cannot boycott until the deal is up. In Northeast Ohio at least, the Friday night lights will shine bright for a few more years.
However, sports around the country are still at risk of cancellation due to lack of officials.
After the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of the older officials took an indefinite break or simply retired.
“There haven’t been a lot of younger people getting into the profession, so there’s been a steady decline for all sports,” Peters said. “There are some events that can’t even get covered by an official.”
According to The National Federation of State High Schools, 50,000 referees across all sports have hung up their whistles over the past three to four years.
There haven’t been a lot of younger people getting into the profession, so there’s been a steady decline for all sports. There are some events that can’t even get covered by an official.
— Athletic Director Ryan Peters
But the pandemic is not the only reason that officials are quitting. In fact, the larger culprit may be the verbal and occasional physical abuse from fans.
In one extreme example in April of this year, a DeKalb County, Georgia referee was violently attacked by a high school basketball team who outnumbered him 7 to 1. The game was held in a church.
While yelling at referees may be an inevitable part of the game, this kind of conduct towards officials is getting worse.
Kristi Moore, who oversees fast pitch-softball in Mississippi, got a black eye last spring due to violence at a game.
“The veterans are quitting by the droves. They’re sick of it,” Moore told the AP. “When we work to recruit new people, get ’em trained, get ’em out there on the field, they’re three or four games in when someone gives them a good cussing out or an invitation to get their tail beat. They’re like: ‘You know what? I’ll go cut grass on the weekend.’”
“It comes with the territory. It’s part of being a referee,” Lewis said. .
“When [I] learned how to diffuse situations and communicate, whether it’s with a fan, coach, or kid, I would never have a problem in the end,” he added. “That’s part of learning how to be an official: You learn to take grief.”
However, there are times when this behavior is taken too far. Lewis himself, who was a referee for 30 years, says there were times when he was in danger because of his profession.
“I once had a gentleman follow me to the parking lot and he was yelling at me, and I told him that two things were about to happen, and they were both going to be bad,” he said. “You’re going to try to hit me, and then you’re going to be arrested. After that, he backed off.”
BHS English teacher and former BHS baseball coach Todd Butler says that most of the time, parents are culprits of the abuse towards referees.
“It’s the parents who are really living vicariously through their children, wanting them to succeed at any cost, and not understanding that failure is such a part of the game,” Butler said.
Due to the shortage in referees, lots of teenage athletes have stepped up and officiated little-league games, but their reception has not been the best, to say the least.
“It’s one thing when you’re yelling at your TV or if you had a Guardians or Browns game and you’re yelling at the umpire, but it’s another thing when it’s a nine -year-old girls soccer game and you’re yelling at a 15-year-old kid. That’s just not acceptable,” Gary Diehl, parks and athletics manager of Broadview Heights, Ohio, told News 5 Cleveland.
I once had a gentleman follow me to the parking lot and he was yelling at me, and I told him that two things were about to happen, and they were both going to be bad. You’re going to try to hit me, and then you’re going to be arrested. After that, he backed off.
— Dr. Donald Lewis, Commissioner of the Chagrin Valley Conference
So, what can BHS students do to help? Well, starting in 9th grade, students can get licenced to officiate little-league games.
“It’s a great summer job for high schoolers,” Beachwood graduate and former baseball coach Howard Taub said . “You can make $400 to $600 a week just officiating games if you take the class.”
“You just have to be ready to handle people yelling at you.” he added.
To become a referee or umpire, you must receive a license from the Ohio High School Athletics Association. Create a profile today at https://www.ohsaa.org/Officiating/permits/category1 and help keep high school sports a possibility for the next generation.