Campaign to attract new sports officials is working

John Matteo, the assigning secretary for the Evergreen Basketball Officials Association, reports that membership is on the rise after several years of declining numbers. Photo by Paul Valencia
John Matteo, the assigning secretary for the Evergreen Basketball Officials Association, reports that membership is on the rise after several years of declining numbers. Photo by Paul Valencia

Numbers are on the rise for local basketball officials association

A campaign to recruit new game officials is paying dividends, for Southwest Washington basketball, as well as many sports throughout the state.

John Matteo, the assigning secretary for the Evergreen Basketball Officials Association, said numbers are trending in the right direction. 

The association was down to around 60 officials for that abbreviated season a year after the start of the pandemic. The numbers grew last year and this year the association has almost 90 officials.

Ideally, the EBOA would love to have a roster of 110 or more officials, Matteo said.

The EBOA covers high school basketball throughout Clark County and so much more. The association also covers middle school, youth leagues, and even recreation adult leagues in the region. 

The busy season is high school basketball, which includes not just the varsity games but all sub-varsity games, as well.

“Things are looking much better,” Matteo said. “We have a good young crop coming up that we’re excited about.”

Inexperienced officials get experience with lower level games. It is the hope that enough will stick to it, improve their skills, and be ready to handle varsity games in the near future.

“I want to give a big shout out to the WIAA and Mick Hoffman,” Matteo said of Washington’s governing body for high school sports and its executive director. He also noted the Washington Officials Association.

The WIAA and WOA have flooded social media with an ad campaign that is also going on throughout the nation. Say Yes to Officiating promotes the benefits of becoming a sports official.  

“Whatever they’re doing, they’re doing a great job,” Matteo said. “People are finding us out there. They made an emphasis on officiating and recruiting, and it’s worked.”

If a prospective official clicks the link to the WIAA and the WOA, administrators will send the candidate to the local association. So if a woman from Camas wants to get into basketball officiating, for example, she will be referred to the EBOA.

It is not just basketball that is having a successful recruitment of officials. Todd Stordahl, executive director of the WOA, said “every sport is trending to a 10 to 15 percent increase from last year.”

Still, there is a way to go to recover from a mass exodus of officials in recent years. The numbers were decreasing even before the pandemic. Some associations in the state, Stordahl said, had lost up to 50 percent of its members.

Stordahl said the campaign has been a success in attracting new talent to the officiating ranks. Including young people. Teenagers can get into officiating and work middle school and youth leagues. They get a taste of the action and, the hope is, they will continue working as officials into adulthood. 

Back to basketball in Southwest Washington, there have been a few varsity games in the 4A and 3A Greater St. Helens League that were scheduled on odd days this season. For example, a Thursday game for two teams while the other teams played on a Friday. Some believed it was due to a shuffling of games due to the lack of officials. That did happen in football in the fall, after all. Matteo said that is not the case for basketball this year.

Instead, one athletic director told Clark County Today that it could have been that there were concerns of officials shortages when the schedule was made. Plus, there are challenges coming up with a full regular season, including non-league games, when working with a four-team and a five-team league. So some dates were not the norm.

A year ago, the EBOA was not able to cover every high school game at the sub-varsity level. More than a dozen JV and freshman games were canceled and some varsity games were rescheduled to another day. Matteo said this year, he can only think of two or three sub-varsity games that have been canceled.

Throughout the country, sports officiating numbers have been on the decline for years. One reason is the abuse officials have endured from fans. Athletic directors and officials in Clark County reported that the verbal abuse was particularly harsh during that abbreviated season. 

Matteo said he appreciates that all schools in the region — in the state for that matter — are placing a higher priority on sportsmanship. He said there have been fewer issues with poor fan behavior in Clark County this season. 

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