As the Cherry Creek School community prepares for the much-anticipated opening weekend of high school football in Colorado, a situation called a crisis looms. Over the past few seasons, the number of on-field and on-court officials has declined across all high school sports.
School districts across the state, including Cherry Creek, are having an increasingly difficult time dealing with staff shortages.
“I’m really excited to start the new school year with track and field activities,” said Larry Bull, district director of track and field activities. “However, due to normal circumstances such as weather and facility availability, matches and game schedules are subject to change at any time, and districts are currently being forced to make changes due to lack of officers and crew.”
Bull and other district officials have spent the last few weeks adjusting the 2022 schedule for football and other sports to make referee crews available.
“This affects all sports,” Bull said. “For example, field hockey has a very limited number of referees. Softball can have problems with refereeing and, as I said, soccer will have challenges this season. It’s become a real problem.”
The Colorado High School Activity Association has long been acutely aware of this situation.
“It’s certainly not just Colorado. It’s national,” said CHSAA Vice Chairman Michael Book. “I think he attended a national conference in San Antonio in June where officials from every state spoke about similar issues.”
The book pointed out several causes. In Colorado, schools are being added due to population growth, veteran staff in all sports are retiring, and the pipeline for adding new staff is not well established to meet the state’s needs.
“New schools open and you see problems in all sports and at the level of sports,” Book said. “When you lose officers and add schools and sports, that gap just keeps getting bigger.”
He explained that staff shortages are forcing officials to work more night shifts during the week, which increases the rate of burnout. Additionally, new talent never enters the professional ranks fast enough to keep up with demand.
Book said the CHSAA has asked schools and districts to adjust their schedules to accommodate the lack of football.
“Since the beginning of this summer, we’ve been telling everyone that we don’t have enough crew to cover the number of games, especially on Friday nights,” Book said.
Schools and districts have been asked to schedule multiple games on the same day so one crew can run two games back to back. This is a step taken by Cherry Creek Schools.
“We made sure to start some game times late so that the crew could double up,” Bull said. “Some games he moved from Stutler Bowl to Legacy so we can use the same crew.”
“Cherry Creek School District has been very helpful,” Book said, adding that schools and districts that don’t want to coordinate dates and times will find no one involved in the game.
Recruiting new officials for all sports has become a priority, but there are also challenges.
“Salary is a big factor. Part of that is being able to step away from my regular job and focus on the time it takes to host a contest,” Book said, adding that training issues play a role as well. CHSAA has just started training its staff, but I think it would be even better if there was an opportunity to mentor them.”
The behavior of coaches and fans is also a factor. Book said the issue is deterring many future civil servants.
“When I ask someone, ‘Hey, would you like to be a civil servant?’ or ‘Are you interested in civil service? I don’t want to be yelled at,” Book said. “It’s not about the salary, it’s not about all the other factors, it’s about ‘I don’t want to be yelled at’.”
He said schools can influence the behavior of coaches and fans.
“Coaches are the people who guide the reactions of the players and fans. If the coach is polite, cool and asks the right questions, the crowds, especially the children playing, usually follow suit,” Book said. “Officials can handle things on the floor and on the field, but the crowd in the stands needs game control.”
“This is a statewide issue,” Bull said. “It’s all of us. Communities, students, parents, coaches and players must change if this situation is to turn around.”
If you or someone you know is interested in becoming official, please email Michael Book at [email protected] or Monica Tillman at [email protected] to contact the Colorado High School Activities Association. Please contact