Incentives help attract referees, umpires in wake of shortage

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It’s been a worry that some say is rearing its ugly head much earlier this spring than anticipated.

Youth and high school sports are being played, for now.

Rhonda Dammer, with the National Sports Center in Blaine, says finding referees has been "extremely difficult."

Dammer coordinates all the refs for games and tournaments at NSC.

"We have refs right now that will come from Rochester, from Bemidji, from Mankato," Dammer said. "When these cities start opening up and having their own tournaments, we’re going to be competing for those referees."

MSHSL faces issues retaining youth sports officials

An incentive program this spring brought in 58 new refs, and a refer a ref program going on now offers $20 gift certificates to any current ref that brings in a new one. But NSC is still hundreds short of where it was in 2019.

"This year, we’re down about 2,300, refs so we’re almost half of what we usually have," Dammer said.

The Blaine Soccer Club hasn’t had an issue so far but has launched a new program to help recruit and keep new refs.

"We’re advertising for youth to come ref at a very low-key environment," Blaine Soccer Club Executive Director Pat Prindle said. "Their job is to have fun, for the kids, the parents and the coaches."

Prindle says making the certification program more attainable for youth could also bring in talent.

"Becoming a rep is very difficult, it’s very time-consuming for a kid to want to go through it," Prindle said. "And kids don’t have time, and I think that’s a big problem right now."

He added, "We as leaders need to do our part to look at that and see how we can influence it for the future."

The Minnesota State High School League is always looking for officials to help with games and activities throughout the school year.