One of the best barometers we have for informing us of the health of Michigan’s economy is to examine the number of registrations to be an MHSAA official. When the economy is poor, registrations trend upward; when the economy is improving, registrations decline.
Well, business must be booming in Michigan! Since the 2007-08 school year we’ve fallen almost 2,000 registrations.
Some of this decline can be explained away by the fact that registrations spiked upward when we allowed some free registrations in volleyball and basketball following the 2007 court-ordered changes in the girls volleyball and basketball seasons. But most of the recent decline – certainly the 1,000 decline of the past two years – is unrelated to discontinuing those promotional efforts; and it’s unrelated to a very reluctant resurgence in Michigan’s economy.
What is at work here now are two newer forces that frustrate efforts to maintain a pool of officials that is adequate to handle all the contests of a broad and deep interscholastic athletic program, and to handle those contests well:
- The first is the rise of social media and “instant criticism.” Spectators not only can critique calls before the official gets home from the game, those spectators can do so during the game. Their biased comments – and photos – can go worldwide before the official has left the venue! Really, who needs this? There have got to be less stressful hobbies.
- The second factor is the increased dependence on assigners. As local school athletic directors’ jobs became larger and more complicated, and as they were often given less time to do those jobs, more have had to turn to local assigners who will hire contest officials for groups of schools in one or more sports. As assigners built their little kingdoms, new officials have found it harder to break in and obtain a rewarding number of assignments. Many officials who have found themselves out of sorts with a local assigner have said, “Really, who needs this?” They find more fulfilling ways to spend their time.
The fact is that school-based sports – educational athletics – needs officials. We need them.
We need more officials and we especially need more young officials. Officials are vital members of the team that is necessary to provide a school-based sports program that actually does what it says it does – and that is to teach life lessons, including fair play and sportsmanship.
(Find out more about MHSAA officiating)