CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (WFXR) — Friday night football is going to be Thursday night football for some games this season. Due to a lack of officials, Virginia’s high school football league is having to get creative to accommodate referees and line judges.
“Friday night, a lot of people don’t have to go to work Saturday,” said Jim McAlister, a grandfather attending the Christiansburg varsity football game on Thursday, Sept. 1, adding that he thinks the schedule changes could impact the number of people who can travel for games.
Steven Fleshman, the commissioner of the Western Virginia Football Officials Association, says this issue has already been seen around the rest of the Commonwealth.
“Us adjusting Friday night games, we are probably one of the last associations in the state of Virginia that has had to ask their schools to do this,” he said.
According to Fleshman, many officials left when the season was canceled at the start of the pandemic and they never returned.
The commissioner says that the association is still down 26 officials from last year, with just 109 covering games across western Virginia.
“We need to do whatever we can to create the interest, or recreate the interest, in officiating,” said Fleshman.
He adds people are also deterred by the time commitment to get qualified and the heat from the stands. Fleshman says he knows multiple referees who have left the job because of the abusive comments hurled by fans, players, and coaches.
“I think that’s part of sports, the fans getting excited and yelling for their team and sometimes yelling at officials,” said McAlister.
Fleshman says the shortage is being seen across every sport at every level.
“What it could ultimately end up doing is having to do away with certain sports because we don’t have the officials to work them,” he said.
If you really want to get in on the game day action, you can become an official. You can learn more about the job and getting qualified by emailing Fleshman at firstname.lastname@example.org.