In what’s becoming as much of a preseason tradition as up-downs and wind sprints at two-a-day football practices, local officials are sounding the alarm that there may not be enough zebras to go around this fall on gridirons around the area.

For the last several summers in a row the Southwest Washington Football Officials’ Association has issued a plea for new recruits to fill out the ranks. Without new blood in the fold, the association says, the traditional Friday night prep football game may be put in jeopardy. That threat can be attributed to a shortage of bodies willing to don the black and white stripes with the little yellow flag accessories.

With a limited reserve of officials who are trained and willing to cover games in Lewis, Thurston, Pacific, and Grays Harbor counties the SWFOA, along with local athletic directors, are facing the possibility of shuffling more and more games off of their slot on Friday nights and over to less crowd pleasing slots on Thursday nights and Saturdays.

“We have a tremendous shortage of officials. We have gone from a staff of 50 plus officials to less than 40. Moreover, the officiating staff is getting older,” wrote Bob Berg, who wears the white hat for the SWWFOA. “We need younger people to keep our association going. Officials are needed in order to play the game.”

That 20 percent decline in the official roster is exacerbated by the fact that the current median age of active crew is 57 years old. The SWFOA covers football games for 14 different school districts and acts as arbiters for more than 200 games each season. Typical scheduling requires at least 32 official each night with as many as 45 officials on call for the busiest Fridays of the fall.

With all those factors in play Berg isn’t in the mood, or position, to be too picky when it comes to new recruits. He says it’s optimal to find prospects who are fresh out of high school or college who are in good physical shape, who have a basic understanding of the game, and who possess a disarming personality suitable for working closely with players and coaches. But, Berg added a big caveat, when he noted, “Having said that, ANY individual is welcome to join our group.”

Besides providing a pathway to get back on the field after the glory days have passed one by, officiating also comes with a paycheck. A new official can earn as much as $500 in a season, minus a small upfront cost for uniforms and associated equipment, like a whistle. Ongoing training is also provided throughout the season at weekly meetings.

According to Berg, the gig is worth giving a shot, “If you want to have some fun, get the best seat in the house, (and) earn some bucks while giving something back to the game.”

New officials can expect to work between 10 and 20 games per season. Those games will typically take place on Mondays and Thursdays when junior varsity and freshman squad games are scheduled. There are also seven meetings during the season that take place on Tuesdays, plus an end of season banquet.

Berg also pointed out that the official shortage is not endemic to football.

“There is a nationwide shortage of officials in all sports and (we) all know that to play the game you need players, coaches, fans and OFFICIALS,” wrote Berg. “Without officials, it’s just recess.”

For more information or to get signed up contact Berg by phone at 360-269-6466 or by email at swwfoa@comcast.net.

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