Another season of Friday Night Lights is just around the corner, but high school football in Oklahoma is dangerously close to making drastic changes to the cherished sport due to a shortage of officials.
Playing games on weeknights and using smaller crews are two of the choices being seriously considered due to the shrinking pool of certified officials.
“We are really doing our best to get coaches and superintendents to agree to play on Thursday nights,” said Ethan Rolen, President of the Greater Tulsa Officials Association. “We just don’t have enough officials. If every school in the state plays on Friday night, there’s going to be some games that don’t have officials and can’t play. That’s the bottom line.”
A shortage of officials is an alarming trend facing youth sports these days.
“When I started, I didn’t work a varsity game the first two years I officiated,” added Rolen, who’s entering his 22nd year as a high school football official. “I did a lot of junior high and junior varsity games. Now we’re rolling first-time guys out on varsity fields every Friday night because we have to. It’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to the kids or the coaches, but we don’t have a choice.”
“There’s a lot of different things,” claimed Rolen on why there’s a shortage of officials. “It’s high demand and little pay. It’s a big commitment. You have to work hard. For high school football, you get $105 a game, which is not very much when you consider everything that goes into it.”
The good news is, it doesn’t take long to get started as a football official. Participants must pay minimal dues to their local association and to the OSSAA, attend four local meetings, attend one state meeting, pass a rules test, and watch a series of safety videos.
“If someone signs up today and says they want to officiate, they’ll be on the field in August working football games,” assured Rolen.
Rolen is hopeful the national trend of women getting more involved with officiating increases participation in Oklahoma.
“Across the state of Oklahoma, I know of three women that are currently involved,” remarked Rolen. “That’s an untapped resource and we would love to get more women involved. We’ve tried to recruit women, but it’s a hard sell. We would love to see women involved, absolutely.”
The Greater Tulsa Officials Association meets Monday nights at 6:30 pm at the UMAC at Union High School. On July 18, Tulsa native and current NFL official Clay Martin will be the main speaker.
“He’s a member of the GTOA,” remarked Rolen on Martin. “He pays his dues every year just like I do. He comes to our meetings, as many as he can. It’s going to be a great opportunity to listen and learn from him.”
“Clay is very involved and helps us in many ways,” added Rolen. “Any training opportunity I ask him to help us with, he’s there. He’s a great guy. He came through the GTOA and is still a member.”
Anyone interested in becoming a high school football official can find a complete list of meeting dates and additional information at the Greater Tulsa Officials Association website, www.tulsaofficials.com.