Area umpires, officials and referees are looking for recruits to join their ranks on the diamond, hardwood and gridiron before the next school year.
Andy Williams, who represents the Central District on the Missouri State High School Activities Association Officials Advisory Committee, said waning numbers and aging members
“Right now, it’s a lack of numbers, and I’m not getting any younger,” Williams said. “It’s to the point where I think our median age for basketball is between 52-54.”
Williams contacted 21 area superintendents in April in hopes of recruiting younger members, incoming and outgoing seniors, to the practice. He said part-time compensation and difficult crowds have made retaining young officials a challenge.
“That’s one of the hardest things as a young official, when they’re doing a match, hearing parents say they’re terrible, you missed a call,” Williams said. “Nobody likes to get yelled at.”
Connor Spunaugle, who worked as an umpire for MSHSAA baseball and softball events in spring, said demand for umpires kept him busy through May.
“As soon as I got certified, I already had 10 games on my schedule,” Spunaugle said. “Looking at my emails, you could work pretty much every night if you wanted to. That just shows how bad they needed it.”
Spunaugle said that chatting with players and coaches between innings helped maintain a civil setting, but faced his share of negativity as he worked his way up the lower levels. “It’s not fun to feel like what you’re doing is not appreciated,” he said.
“If you just played a couple years of baseball you don't really understand what the umpire goes through or has to deal with,” Spunaugle said. “They’re probably just doing their best. They don’t have an issue with your kid.”
Williams said officiating is a side-gig, worth about $80 per game, that offers members the opportunity to stay around the game.
“The reason I started refereeing is because I used to play,” Williams said. “Played volleyball, sprained my ankle, told my wife I said I’m done, so I started officiating. That was 16 years ago.
“If they’re done with their high school career, but they still love the game, it’s a good way to stay involved with the game and get paid for it.”
After one season officiating MSHSAA events, Spunaugle recently accepted a teaching and coaching position at Stover. He holds a positive opinion on his time as an official, even if it was for a short stint as a side job.
“I enjoyed it a ton. I enjoyed getting to be a part of the game,” Spunaugle said. “Keep the game flowing. Give small pointers and just help the kids out. It can be stressful because coaches and fans take it pretty seriously. Sometimes you miss a call and you just have to learn to live with that. Overall I had a pleasant experience umpiring, especially the little league games.
“It’s just a side job that’s been very good to me.”
Those interested in officiating for the 2021-22 school year can apply at MSHSAA.org or contact Williams via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alex Agueros can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @abagueros2.