SWLA, (KPLC) - For the last few years Louisiana has manged to avoid mass cancellations and postponements of high school sports games all thanks to the men and women wearing black and white stripes.
However, a shortage of referees seems to be a growing problem across the country as well as in Southwest Louisiana.
“We haven’t had to cancel a game and, Lord, we plan on not ever having to have that happen,” Al Purdy, Lake Charles secretary for the Louisiana Basketball Officials Association said.
In recent years, the process it takes to make high school sports contests happen has become a lot more challenging.
“On an average night we’ll need about 80 people and we only have 100 to start with, so when somebody’s working it really puts us in a bind," Purdy said.
The problem? Fewer people are wanting to join.
CLICK HERE to find out how you could become a part of the next generation of officials.
“Roughly ten years ago is when we really started to see it," Purdy said. “The real issue is the fact that we’re not getting new officials."
That is the bottom line according to him.
“Officials are getting older, they’re staying longer but, however, new officials are not coming in,” Purdy said.
Many of the referees we spoke with say they aren’t doing it for the money.
According to the Louisiana High School Athletic Assocation, Louisiana officials, on average, make around $50 to $95 per game. In Southwest Louisiana, officials make anywhere between $40 to $60 for a match.
Al Purdy says the referee pool in our district is aging - the average age of an area referee is 53. He says at some point they’re going to have to fill positions as they retire, and right now they just don’t have the manpower to do it.
Timothy Joseph has been officiating games for 33 years. He will soon be looking toward retirement.
“Once I got out of high school there was no more basketball career and I wanted to stick with the game,” Joseph said.
For him it’s all about giving back to the community that inspired him to wear the black and white stripes.
So is the case for Bryan Verrett, a 13-year official.
“People just don’t want to get back into refereeing or refereeing period because of the fact that a lot of fans get on them and a lot of coaches get on them and people now days they just can’t take a lot of criticism,” Verrett said.
He says a big part of the job is understanding how to manage the game and deal with the fans.
Here at home there are a few younger people who have signed up to become officials, but is it enough?
“If you don’t have young people filling in that pipeline, then we’re going to suffer and have a big gap and we currently do have a big gap,” said Daniel Lavergne, who has been officiating for seven years.
“When I first joined three years ago, I was like ‘Wow, I’m the only female here,’ ” said Kayla Myles.
To increase recruiting numbers, the LHSAA is incorporating a multi-pronged approach, focusing on three key factors in the game: Sportsmanship, convenience and enjoyment.
As for Purdy, with high hopes, he’s actively recruiting the next generation.
“With the path we’re going now, five years we’ll be looking at disaster... but we are working on things," said Purdy. "The High School Athletic Association has some things they’re going to try to do and we’re going to avert that disaster.”
A disaster he hopes never makes it way to the court.
In some cases, coaches have been asked to move games to Thursday nights, in addition to regularly scheduled games on Friday, in order to have enough referees.