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High school basketball assigner racing against the clock amid referee shortage

Now that indoor contact sports have the green light, it’s a race against the clock to get games scheduled for the winter
Published: Feb. 5, 2021 at 10:11 AM EST
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DAVISON, Mich. (WJRT) - Now that indoor contact sports have the green light, it’s a race against the clock to get games scheduled for the winter.

In Mid-Michigan, one man is responsible for assigning referees to those games in four different leagues. The indoor ban wasn’t the only issue working against him. He’s also facing a shortage of refs, but he’s finding a way to put the puzzle together without some important pieces.

Pat Mckenna usually starts assigning referees for middle and high school basketball many months in advance, but not this school year.

”Like you’re hitting page one, then page two, then page three, and then you get through that, and all of a sudden someone says, ‘Well go back and do page one again. Do page two, page three,’” Mckenna said,

The state of Michigan made the announcement on Thursday, lifting the ban on winter contact sports beginning February 8th. The news was a huge relief for student athletes and coaches, but how about the officials assigning referees on such short notice? Mckenna says he has an assistant to help him assign the lower level games, but still, another problem remains.

”I’ve lost officials. Some of them just don’t feel comfortable going out there, even with a mask. They just don’t feel comfortable being that close,” Mckenna said.

Since the pandemic started in March, 68 referees have decided not to return, taking the number down to almost 200 instead of 280.

How does that affect the games? There may have to be some give-and-take this year, like changing dates or boys games and girls games playing at one site to have the same officiating crew at both games.

”The changes you have to make, the compromises you have to make as an athletic director or as an assigner, you have to work together. You got to make sure that these games get covered,” Mckenna said.

Now, Mckenna is waiting for the four leagues to communicate their schedules with him, and then he can assign referees.

Even though he’s facing a tall order in a short amount of time, there’s one thing keeping him going.

”What’s the number one thing we’re talking about here? Kids right. We want to work with kids. The number of hours you put in, I don’t know, it’s like every other job. Sometimes you feel like, ‘Why am I doing it?’ I know why I’m doing it because I love working with kids,” Mckenna said.

For more information related to the lifted ban on indoor winter contact sports, click here.

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