The Northwestern High School soccer team was ready recently to play Gaffney High School.
The only problem: there were no referees.
The Rock Hill team tried to reschedule the game first to Wednesday and then to Thursday, said head coach Dom Wren. The game had to be canceled because they could not secure two referees.
“I’m really surprised we couldn’t get anybody two days in a row,” Wren said. “I’ve been doing this 16 years and I’ve never experienced that.”
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The need for more referees has affected youth and high school sports programs in Rock Hill and across the state.
“Retention is and always has been an issue, a worldwide issue,” said Bob Delaney, a Rock Hill based instructor and assessor with the SC Referee Association, which supports the U.S. Soccer Federation Referee Program. The association promotes and implements U.S. Soccer’s initiatives at the local level.
“Competition creates a harsh environment and the spectator make up, like all youth sports, are adult parents,” Delaney said. “They make a tough situation caustic for officials.”
Wren said that is affecting sports programs.
“(Referees) don’t get appreciated by fans or by players on some teams,” Wren said. “It’s a shame. No matter what anyone thinks of referees, you can’t have a game without them.”
The shortage of officials has affected programs in the Rock Hill area.
If you attend a ROAR Sports soccer game in Rock Hill, you may notice a person missing — the third referee.
It’s become common for the Rock Hill area sports ministry to have two referees at soccer games instead of the typical three, said Andy Worthington, ROAR director. ROAR, a ministry of Westminster Presbyterian Church and First Baptist of Rock Hill, hosts youth sport programs, including soccer and basketball.
Worthington said there is less interest in the center referee positions because they make the most crucial calls.
“We are in great need of center referees for soccer this spring,” Worthington said. “Always one of the more challenging things with this job is finding referees who will do a good job, who know the sport and who will show up week after week.”
The state referee association attracts new referees in two entry level referee classes held in January and August, Delaney said. He said they can get 100 new referees each year. However, he said about 50 to 75 percent choose to be recertified.
“We lose referees every year,” Delaney said.
We lose referees every year.
Bob Delaney, S.C. Referee Association
Many of the people who sign up to referee are young and are learning how to make the right calls, he said. Delaney said a SC Referee Association referee must be at least 12 years old.
“Unfortunately, because winning is everything, parents and coaches will let somebody have it because they think they deserve it,” Delaney said. “It can grind on somebody young and not firm in their decision-making process.”
During the basketball season, Worthington said ROAR sees the same five or six men, usually high school-age, referring the games, Worthington said. He said a referee recently did not show up to one of the last basketball games after serving all season.
“I think it’s due to high stress,” Worthington said. He said parent and coach comments can be “intimidating, especially for a high school student.”
Worthington said the need can be attributed, in part, to the stress of dealing with being corrected from parents and coaches during games.
“That’s going to leave a bad taste and they aren’t going to want to come back and endure that,” he said.
Chuck Preslar of Rock Hill has been referee at ROAR soccer and basketball games for two years. Preslar was a coach for more than 20 years, 10 of which he spent with ROAR. Preslar’s 14-year-old son also referees with him.
“I do it because I love sports,” he said. “I think it’s very rewarding.”
Preslar said he recognizes the roles’ challenges, though he has not personally experienced a problem.
“There’s a perception of over-involvement of parents during the game,” Preslar said. “Those instances that happen are few and far between.”
Preslar meets with coaches ahead of the season and before games to go over what is expected from them and from referees. Coaches can then relay those expectations to players.
“It helps to resolve issues before they even present themselves,” he said.
Amanda Harris: 803-329-4082