LIMA – In addition to footballs, plenty of yellow flags were flying Friday night in the first week of the season and this is when fans notice the men in the stripes the most.
However, what happens if these dedicated referees fail to show up for the game and call penalties? The obvious answer is there is no Friday night football.
“You know what, that scares me to death,” said Deron Bailey, secretary of the Western Ohio Football Officials Association (WOFOA). “As secretary, schools call me. ADs call me. Conference commissioners call me and say ‘I need an official.’ What happens if we don’t have enough?
“My worst fear is they are going to have to cancel a game or two because they don’t have enough officials.”
While this is something that is still off in the future, it could become reality if the current trend of not attracting new officials continues in northwest Ohio.
Bailey said within the last two years the organization has lost 12 officials, seeing the membership numbers drop from 87 to 75 at the beginning of this season. He adds that 10 years ago, there were more than 100 members.
“As far as prospective officials coming in we have just three coming in for Lima but we lost 12 and that is not good,” Bailey said.
Bailey, who is entering his 24th year as an official, said the main reason for the drop off in officials is the current referees are “getting old,” and they are not being replaced. Bailey estimates the average age of the current members of the WOFOA is around 50 and he sees a mass exodus of older officials occurring in the next five years that could produce a huge void if they do not start getting replacements for these veteran referees.
“A lot of us are getting old. I am 49 years old and we have members approaching their 70s,” Bailey said. “We have members that have been in it for a long, long time. Guys are getting out of it for whatever reason. Bumps and bruises. They are tired of it. Money.”
Bailey adds that younger people are not as interested in being an official as before.
Money and time are the two main reasons it is tough to attract new officials.
“People don’t understand you have to put a lot of time and effort into it,” Bailey said. “You can stay pretty busy. You can make a little money but you have to take into account all the time your are driving and the gas prices fluctuating so that is also a factor.”
Before earning any money, prospective individuals must pay a $135 fee to take the initial instructional course to get started and then on top of that must pay for their uniform and equipment that runs another $200-plus.
Bailey said one initiative to attract officials is sponsoring individuals to offset the cost of paying for the introductory cost.
“We talked about sponsoring prospective officials where we will pay their fee, and after we come to an agreement that after they get a game check they will pay us $10 or $20 or whatever to balance it out. I know people look at the $135 and say that is a lot of money. Plus you have the cost of the uniform so we are going to try to help people out. We might be able to do it this year.”
Trying to recruit new referees has become a priority for Bailey and the WOFOA and there are some benefits to calling games but it is a process and individuals must dedicate their time to becoming fully certified.
Officials, who start out and must officiate games for two years at the midget, junior high and junior varsity level, get paid between $45 to $50. At the varsity level, depending on the conference, get paid between $65 and $70.
Officials who do multiple games in a week can earn a small chunk of change but it does mean a lot of time and traveling.
Doing games is just one area that takes up the official’s time. Officials are obligated to take classes through the year which adds another time burden that individuals are not willing to sacrifice. To become certified the individual must spend 25 hours of field time and class time.
“There is a lot of stuff in the rule book,” Bailey said. “If you played football or think you know football you might but you don’t know officiating and I have many guys who have told me that.”
Bailey said another factor in individuals not wanting to become officials is the constant scrutiny and criticism from fans, players and coaches.
“People are afraid of getting screamed at or hollered at and I’ll be honest with you, you really don’t hear them,” Bailey said. “The truth is the fans really don’t know all the rules.”
The Ohio High School Athletic Association is trying to assist by allowing associations to conduct meetings prior to the football season. Previously, the meetings had to be held during the football season.
Bailey said typically individuals interested in officiating begin contacting him once the season has already started but Bailey said he generally starts in July. However, Bailey takes on people at all times and tries to accommodates the instructional classes to the individual.
Interested parties seeking to become officials can contact Bailey or go through the OHSAA website and locate the Lima area icon and instructors and it will direct them to Bailey. Once contacted, Bailey will invite the prospective individual to the initial class and that gets the ball rolling.
“The easiest way is to call me and give me your e-mail address and I can send out an invitation through the OHSAA website,” he said. “I’ve had classes with as many as 12 or even one. I’ll try to accommodate every one.”
The age restrictions may surprise some people. Individuals as young as 14 can begin the process of becoming a referee. Even though they cannot officiate varsity or junior varsity games they can begin gaining valuable experience at the midget and middle school level.
Once they turn 18 they can begin the process of moving up the ladder of officiating levels.
Women are also encouraged to become officials.
All beginners must do two years of junior varsity football or lower before they can be considered to officiate varsity games.
“By the time the two years goes by we will have you rocking and rolling because we want you to succeed. The OHSAA wants you to succeed. The coaches need us,” Bailey said. “Without us they cannot have a game.”
Thanks to some stellar defense, especially in the fourth quarter, and the legs of Jaden Walker, the Spartans earned a 24-17 victory over Middletown in the season opener.
Walker, who racked up more than 200 yards on the ground, was the Lima Senior offense but the Spartans will need to see more improvement in their passing game to prevent teams from keying on Walker.
The Spartans are facing Marion Harding, which lost a heartbreaking 22-20 loss to Mount Vernon in its season opener.
Lima Senior’s secondary will have to be on alert for the Presidents’ passing game that accounted for two of their three touchdowns. Marion Harding quarterback Ryan Sayre was 11 for 19 for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
The Presidents’ defense gave up 242 total yards to Mount Vernon and limited the Presidents ground game to just 61 yards on 28 carries.
Lima Central Catholic
The T-Birds (0-1) had a tough first game. Not only did they lose in a shootout with Elida, 40-33, but lost starting quarterback Anthony Venturella to a broken collarbone. Brandon Stolly will assume the role under center when LCC faces off with Delphos St. John’s (0-1) in the football version of the Holy Wars. The Blue Jays, beset with turnovers, faltered against Bath, 28-27, in their opener. The Blue Jays’ Aaron Reindel had 228 rushing yards in the losing effort.
Western Buckeye League
The beginning of the WBL begins tonight with a number of early key matchups.
Bath (1-0) and Ottawa-Glandorf (1-0) has both teams coming off big wins in their openers and this game should give the winner a league up on the competition.
Defending WBL champion Wapakoneta (1-0) which had a close win over Bellefontaine, will battle Shawnee (0-1) which took it on the chin against Delphos Jefferson.
Elida (1-0), coming off an impressive win over Lima Central Catholic, will battle Celina (0-1) which lost a close decision to Versailles 13-7.
Kenton, (0-1) coming off a loss to Coldwater, 58-39 will try to get on the winning track when it faces Defiance, which is also seeking its first win. The Bulldogs lost to Napolean 21-7.
Coming off a 43-39 win over Sidney, St. Marys (1-0) will tackle Van Wert (0-1) which lost its opener to Bryan 28-19.
A lot of interesting matchups in the NWC with all the teams still playing non-league opponents.
Perhaps one of the best games of the night will be Coldwater (1-0), coming off a huge win over Kenton (1-0), taking on Delphos Jefferson (1-0) which defeated Shawnee 34-6 in its opener.
Columbus Grove (1-0) takes on another Blanchard Valley Conference foe this week after defeating Pandora-Gilboa (0-1), 35-29, when it battles Leipsic (1-0). The Vikings won their opener, 43-14, over Hardin Northern.
Crestview (1-0) takes on Hicksville (0-1). The Knights opened their 2016 campaign with a 40-27 win over Parkway.
With the return of quarterback Seth Conley, Ada (1-0) picked up an impressive 38-6 win over Upper Scioto Valley. The Bulldogs return to action Friday when they take on Arlington (0-1) which was shut out by Anna, 28-0.
Paulding (0-1), which lost a close one to Wayne Trace, 28-23, faces off against Fairview (1-0).
Spencerville (0-1) ran into a buzz saw against Patrick Henry (1-0) and lost 34-7. The Bearcats will seek to collect their first victory when they play Parkway (0-1).
Bluffton (1-0), which pitched a shutout over Cory-Rawson in week one, will face off against Mount Vernon (1-0) which escaped with a 22-20 win over Marion Harding on Friday night.
Northwest Central Conference
Under new head coach Herb Lane, Perry (1-0) opened its season with a 42-34 victory over Antwerp. The Commodores will have their hands’ full against Allen East (0-1) which is coming off a one-point victory over Van Buren (0-1).
Waynesfield-Goshen’s new head coach Shane Wireman did not fare as well as Lane as the first year head coach suffered a 23-6 loss to Riverdale in the season opener. The Tigers will try to get into the win column the Tigers will face Fairbanks (0-1). Fairbanks is coming off a 51-15 loss to Ben Logan.
Upper Scioto Valley (1-0), which lost to Ada, will seek its first win against Cory-Rawson.
Reach Jose Nogueras at 567-242-0468 or on twitter @JoseNogueras1