Officials want to see and pay for sporting changes

North Carolina’s shortage of high school athletic officials and umpires has become more apparent since the pandemic, but data released last week by the NC High School Athletic Association shows things could get a lot worse.

Over the summer, the NCHSAA established a committee to study the issues behind the shortage of new officers and the inability to retain current officers. The committee conducted a survey of all NCHSAA officials from all sports and obtained a response rate of 42%.

A lot of data was collected in the survey, but one number stood out more than any other — in the past two years, 53% of NCHSAA officers have considered quitting.

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“If you lose us, you lose high school sports,” NCHSAA committee chair Steve Schwartz said in an interview on 99.9 FM The Fan Wednesday. Schwartz has coached high school basketball in the Triangle area for 36 years . “The school system in the state of North Carolina is left with the very real possibility that programs will have to be canceled because they don’t have officials to call their games.”

Schwartz said there are two main reasons officers leave: sportsmanship and compensation.

“Why can’t we recruit and why do we have a challenge retaining officers? Well, there are two main reasons. Athleticism – people are over the abuse and it’s gotten significantly worse over the years… The NCHSAA needs to get a grip on athleticism. Schools need to get a handle on athleticism. And get paid — a lot of officers just don’t think they’re getting paid what they deserve,” Schwartz said.

The poll found that 63% of NCHSAA officials think bad behavior by fans, coaches and players makes the job less rewarding, and 66% said viewer behavior is worse than ever.

Pay is the other big issue, according to the survey. 51% of the civil servants who took part in the survey believe that the salary rate is not at the appropriate level. Schwartz said officials in neighboring states are paid more.

A basketball official makes $52.50 for a college basketball game or $105 for a college doubles header.

“For a lot of them, it’s not an Uber ride to school,” Schwartz said. “And many officials say, ‘Why would I go to a high school game and get $105 for two varsity games and put up with that level of abuse?’ Young people say, ‘I don’t know how to do this’… And for the higher officials, it’s like, ‘How much longer am I going to put up with this?’”

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Last week, Schwartz and other members of the committee met with the NCHSAA Board of Directors to present their findings and make recommendations. The board is expected to review these recommendations and take action at its regular winter board meeting, which begins later this month.

“The NCHSAA faces a challenge where we need a seat at the table – the umpires need a seat at the table – we need to be fully integrated into their mission. We believe in the mission of education-based athletics,” Schwartz said. “I really hope that given the financial challenges that schools are facing, the salary issue is addressed in some way that everyone out there who officiates is like, ‘Okay. This will be handled.’ And then that gives you a few years to address the issue of sportiness. I hope that comes out of it.”

Schwartz said he walked out of last week’s meeting with the board upbeat.

NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said in a written statement last week that the board is ready to address the issue of officer recruitment and retention.

“The members of our board of directors are committed to thoroughly reviewing the committee’s findings, creating a game plan and timeline to address these issues while continuing to engage in dialogue with officials across the state,” Tucker said. “Our goal is to make substantial changes, both short- and long-term, to improve the conditions and experiences faced by officials in our schools and at our competitions.”

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