Fewer game officials force major schedule changes for high school football

Evergreen Football Officials Association officials ask schools to change days, times in order to cover all the games

This is a test with one question, a story problem that contains math, officials, and football.

The Evergreen Football Officials Association (EFOA) is passing this test, but barely, and only after manipulating the question.

The Evergreen Football Officials Association is struggling to maintain its member numbers, causing schedule changes to high school football. Photo by Paul Valencia
The Evergreen Football Officials Association is struggling to maintain its member numbers, causing schedule changes to high school football. Photo by Paul Valencia

Before Mark Allen, the assignor for the EFOA, could maneuver some things around, the Sept. 17 high school football schedule in Southwest Washington was pretty much Armageddon for local football officials. The original schedule called for 11 home football games in the EFOA’s boundary, but the EFOA only has 35 officials this season who are varsity ready.

“We are trying to cover as many games as we possibly can with the limited number of officials that we have,” Allen said.

That means asking schools to change the schedule. It means asking officials to work two games at a McKenzie Stadium doubleheader, for example. That is not necessarily rare. It happens on occasion for the stadiums that host two games in a night.

However, for the first time anyone in the EFOA can recall, one crew is being asked to work one game at one site, then drive to a nearby stadium for a second game. On the same night.

That is why Washougal will be hosting Woodland at 4 p.m. on Sept. 17, and the Camas home game against Jesuit has been moved to 7:30 p.m., allowing time for the officials to travel from Washougal to Camas.

Gary McGarvie, the athletic director at Washougal, noted that he used to work in Evergreen Public Schools, where doubleheaders at McKenzie Stadium are the norm. Class 4A and 3A teams are accustomed to the occasional 4 or 4:30 p.m. start times.

“It’s going to be a challenge for our communities. They’re not used to it,” McGarvie said of Washougal and Woodland.

While not ideal, this is the situation high school sports is in these days. Soccer matches have had to adjust schedules as well on busy nights. Over the last few years, the numbers in officiating for basketball, baseball, and softball have dropped, as well.

Playing a 4 p.m. football game in Washougal is a consequence.

“It’s where we’re at,” McGarvie said. “Either that or the kids don’t play. You do what you do so the kids play.”

Two other games that week were moved to Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

Bruce Hermansen, the president of the EFOA, will be on the crew that goes from Washougal to Camas on Sept. 17.

“I’m too old for this stuff,” he said with a laugh.

He described the situation as crazy and he appreciates the schools being cooperative.

“We’re getting to a critical stage,” Hermansen said. “I’m not the only one who is not too far from hanging it up. We have four or five new guys this year, but the people coming in aren’t matching the numbers that go out.”

In 2017, there were more than 60 officials in the EFOA who could work a varsity game. In 2019, that number was down to 51. Many of the 51 did not return for the shortened COVID football season, in the spring of 2021, and some of them have yet to return.

“We’re working on trying to get some of them back,” Hermansen said.

Losing more than 30 percent of its membership has put a strain on the assignor. Allen said that a previous assignor told him he was glad to not be doing that job anymore. Thanks a lot, right?

“The worst case scenario is we don’t get any new people and we continue to lose the older people who call it quits, to the point where we won’t have enough to cover anything,” Allen said.

Allen acknowledges that pay is not drawing in new officials. There are many options for a second job to get paid as much as game officials. But a bigger factor, Allen and Hermansen said, is the abuse of officials from fans and, at times, coaches.

“People say ‘Why would I want to go out there and get yelled at?’” Allen said.

Youth football programs — where inexperienced officials get their start — need to be more proactive in dealing with unruly fans and coaches. If a new official is abused early, that official has no motivation to improve his skills and continue, Hermansen said. High school administrators have been pushing sportsmanship for years, but some fans refuse to comply.

Whether behavior improves or not, sports will need officials. Allen said the EFOA wants to work with “anybody who loves the game of football, wants to be involved on the field, and wants to officiatiate so the student athletes will be able to play because we still have officials.”

There is a link on the EFOA’s website for those considering joining the officiating ranks at http://www.efoaonline.org/

It is not too late for this season. A new official likely will not get a varsity football game this season, but a motivated person could get a start in a youth game.

“We had a guy come out to our CCYF games (Saturday morning) that we’ve never met before, and we’re trying to get him on the field in the next couple of weeks,” Allen said.

The EFOA, and other officiating associations, has to grow. Otherwise, sports schedules, such as Week 3’s chaos this football season, will become the norm.

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