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Nationwide shortage of high school football referees affects Virginia teams

Local association covering Southwest Virginia says it’s short 25 officials

High school football is back in full swing, but across the country and here at home we’re experiencing a new type of problem.
High school football is back in full swing, but across the country and here at home we’re experiencing a new type of problem.

ROANOKE, Va. – High school football is back in full swing, but across the country and here at home we’re experiencing a new type of problem. There’s a shortage of referees and it leading to game cancelations in some cases.

The teams are battling it out under the Friday night lights, but high school football wouldn’t happen without the referees. Tim Hess is one of them and has more than a decade of experience in the stripes.

“You got the home, you got the visitors, you’ve got the referees. Our goal is to remain anonymous on the field, do our job, move on, keep it a clean game for both sides and you really don’t know were there,” Hess said.

But there’s a growing referee shortage across the country and here in Southwest Virginia. Steve Fleshman is the commissioner of the Western Virginia Football Officials Association and said it’s getting difficult to field full crews.

“Since the COVID outbreak I think officials found something else to do and a lot of them just didn’t come back, our numbers dropped drastically,” Fleshman said.

Fleshman has about 150 officials currently working, and said he needs about 25 more to at least be in a more manageable spot. The shortage is causing issues, leading to game cancelations in other parts of the state. He fears that could be his reality too.

“We need officials, I’m concerned about the future of the sport and I think we’ll always have football but it’s just whether or not we’re going to have the quality of officiating that we need.”

Hess does it as a way to give back to the sport he loves and he’s encouraging anyone with an interest to give it a try.

“It’s all about the kids and if we keep that in mind they get a good game fair and square, but if we don’t have referees that’s not going to be the case,” Hess said.

Both men and women are eligible for the job. You can find out more by emailing Steve Fleshman at sdfleshman@cox.net