Social media was all abuzz at the headline on Twitter which announced that spring sporting events in Indiana were being cancelled.

Why?

Hint: It wasn’t the weather.

It was because host schools couldn’t find any umpires to work baseball and softball games.

I have been telling you about this looming problem, and it is no longer looming…it’s here.

The shortage of officials is beginning to have an impact.

How did we get here?

It’s really pretty simple.

For many years, the circle of life of high school officiating was healthy and well. Each year, a few older people would retire and a few new people would become licensed. The pool of officials who went from being licensed to being eligible for working post-season tournaments grew, and officials’ quest to work deeper into the tournament meant they worked harder to improve their regular season grades from coaches.

The system worked pretty well.

But in recent years, the number of officials phasing out of working varsity games has been compounded by the slim number of young people taking up a whistle after their playing days are over.

The sands are slipping through the hour glass, and there are no signs they will be refilled.

I have heard and read that some officials are getting out because of parent/fan behavior. There have been instances where officials were quite vocal in saying they were getting out of it because they were tired of being subjected to verbal (and occasionally physical) abuse and altercations. They were tired of walking into the parking lot wondering if they were going to make it out without being accosted.

I won’t deny that it happens—I see it all the time in youth leagues and spring and summer tournaments on YouTube videos.

But I don’t think we see that as much in Indiana’s high schools.

However, guys who have been doing it for a long time are running out of gas. Heck, two guys who announced they were retiring from reffing basketball in our area a few years ago are still working a pretty thick schedule because schools need them.

So what do we do about it?

Well, first, let’s say who is not at fault here.

The IHSAA can only promote the virtues and benefits of becoming a high school official. They can’t make people want to do it.

The schools are also not to blame here either. They can only pay so much to officials. They are still reeling from the COVID period where they had limited or no fans buying tickets to attend their games.

So what is the answer?

The best answer is that young people get their licenses in their favorite sport and start working games. It’s not too late for kids in the 20-30 year old age range to jump in and fill the gap. It’s a good income stream and it’s good exercise in most sports.

If that doesn’t happen, then schools will have to get creative.

By ‘creative’, I mean they may have find other ways to fill the openings they have.

It won’t work for every sport, but I can see schools contracting officials to work both JV and varsity games whenever possible. For example, a basketball game might have the same three referees work the JV game and the varsity game. They obviously would get paid for both games, so they make one trip and get more money.

It’s true that some officials may not want to work the lower-level game, and schools may not want to pay for the equivalent of six officials when they used to pay for five.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Schools with lights on their baseball and softball diamonds may have to play JV and varsity games back-to-back and use the same two umpires for both.

It might also mean that some untraditional things might happen—things like playing basketball games on Mondays and Thursdays.

It might mean playing freshman and JV football games back-to-back and using the same officiating crew. It also could mean playing varsity football games on Thursdays and Saturdays to assure you have officials.

I am not predicting the end of high school sports like some are doing. Not yet, anyway.

But something has to change, soon. The question will be if we, the consumers of high school sports, can stomach the changes that come.