Statewide referee shortage impacting high school football schedules

Some teams are being asked to move games to Thursday or Saturday

Not all football teams are in action for Friday night lights due to a referee shortage

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. – Head Coach Alex Wilkens and the Christiansburg football team hit the gridiron for Week 2 of the high school football season, but this game was a little different.

“Kids had to get back up and go to school today and they’re not used to that. They’re used to sleeping in, sore and tired,” said Wilkens.

A rare Thursday night game occurrence that may become more normal for teams across the Commonwealth due to a statewide shortage of referees.

“I’ve been forced to contact the schools and get them to move their games from Friday night to either a Thursday night or a Saturday afternoon,” explained Western Virginia Officials Association Commissioner Steve Fleshman.

The schedule shift caused a ripple effect that not only impacts the JV and middle school schedules, but also the parent volunteers, game workers, band, cheerleaders, and more.

The biggest adjustment for the coaches is the team’s workflow.

“It expedites your week of prep. I think as coaches, we’re planners. so you divide your workflow over ‘x’ number of days, and when you lose a day or add a day for that matter, you have to manage that,” Wilkens added.

The decline in officials started during the pandemic, but this year it’s worse. The Western Virginia Officials Association is down 25 referees.

While they do have new hires, they’re selective about who officiates varsity games.

“Because of the time and commitment that it takes to become a good football official. And there are a lot of rules you got to know. And they feel like sometimes they need to come on board and working varsity games immediately and it doesn’t work like that,” said Fleshman.

Their goal is to keep the integrity of the game with good officiating while working to field more refs.

About the Author:

Alyssa Rae grew up in Roanoke and graduated from Virginia Tech. An avid sports fan, she spent her first 8 years in TV as a sports anchor and reporter.