Michigan High School Athletic Association recruiting for referees during shortage

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FLINT (WJRT) (01/31/2018) - Michigan high schools are experiencing a shortage of referees across all sports, so the Michigan High School Athletic Association is aggressively recruiting.

"The adult leagues are huge in Michigan, so guys are still playing, they're not coming back to ref," said Gary Johnson, who's been refereeing ice hockey for a decade.

Ice hockey is particularly difficult to recruit officials for because they have to be able to keep up with high school athletes on skates.

"It's very tough for someone to come out here and stand on 1/8th inch of steel for the first time and move like they're on a pair of shoes," said ice hockey referee Dwight Hicks.

"The game's getting quicker, the kids are getting better," said ice hockey referee Gary Johnson.

For middle-aged and older referees, keeping up with teens less than half their age is no easy feat.

"Most challenging part is being in the right spot at the right time, trying not to miss the right call at the right time," said Hicks.

Michigan High School Athletic Association Assistant Director Mark Uyl said the biggest hurdle they face when it comes to losing referees, besides a change in job or family situations, has nothing to do with pay or time commitment

"Lack of sportsmanship of coaches and lack of sportsmanship of adult spectators," said Uyl.

This is across all sports and it's a serious problem. Ice hockey, wrestling, lacrosse and soccer are especially hard hit.

"What it does, if an official gets hurt or an official gets sick, it creates a real problem," said Uyl.

He said the improving economy also means fewer people are looking to earn extra dollars.

Hicks said it's important for his younger colleagues, who are still playing hockey, to give back to the sport:

"They do compensate you for your time, but more importantly you get front row seats. What better way to experience a gem that you enjoy than by being an official," he said.

For more information on applying for positions with the Michigan High School Athletic Association, see "Related Links" on the right side of this story.

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