December 18, 2005
Hey, ref! Need a job?
Special to The Seattle Times
LAURA MORTON / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Mike Uppinghouse wasn't born with skin any thicker than most kids.
But over the past two seasons working youth soccer matches sometimes with irate coaches in his face and cutthroat parents behind his back the 14-year-old Shoreline youth has built up his resistance to heckling, beefed up his self-confidence, and added some ink on his early résumé while earning about 20 bucks a game to boot.
One of hundreds of Puget Sound-area teens working part time as referees, umpires and line judges for local youth sports organizations, Uppinghouse helps feed the growing need for officials of nearly any age in almost every sport.
This month, as city and state soccer tournaments heat up and basketball season kicks into high gear, the scarcity of referees is putting youth sports organizers in the hot seat.
"When you have 31 sites running at least six youth basketball games a weekend and only 80 referees to officiate when you need 150, you can see that we have a shortage," says Susan Lee, youth athletics coordinator for Seattle Parks and Recreation Department.
The picture is the same throughout the region.
Want to get on the ball?
Points to consider before scoring a job as a sports official.
Training: When is it offered? Is there a charge? Is ongoing development or are regular meetings required? If so, how often? Is annual certification required?
Season: How many games am I obligated to officiate? Are self-assignments available?
May I choose games close to my home, school or work?
Competitions: Are novice officials and apprentice referees paired with older mentors for each game? What are the ages of the players I'm qualified to officiate over?
Financial obligations: What regulation uniform (shoes, socks and scorekeeping apparatus) is required? Do I pay for these? How much do these cost?
"We always have a need for good officials," says Todd Stordahl, commissioner for Washington Officials Association (WOA).
The largest officiating organization in the state, WOA trains and certifies 8,000 members.
From gymnastics to football and dance/drill team to wrestling, these WOA refs, lines judges and officials oversee schools' team sports events more than 100,000 competitions statewide each year.
Stordahl calls the work an ideal blend of exercise, passion for sports, contributing to positive youth programs and earning decent part-time wages.
"It's a great opportunity for adults," says Seattle Officials Women's Basketball Association recruiter Bill Roberts. "But it's an even greater opportunity for teens."
With new schools opening, extra teams being added at existing schools and more kids playing on recreational and club teams, the demand continues to grow.
Among the toughest schools jobs to fill: wrestling officials.
And youth participation on recreational, club and school basketball teams is soaring, driving the need for hoops officials.
Close to home, the 200-member Pacific Northwest Basketball Officials Association blows the whistle on more than 10,000 of these games annually.
The members run the hardcourt for school games, AAU youth teams, select basketball clubs and men's recreational leagues from Auburn to South Snohomish County, and Mount Si to Seattle.
The schedule is just as heavy for Women's Basketball Association school games.
"We just trained 27 new members and we could use another 25," says Roberts. "We can't get enough."
Finding basketball referees is especially tough at middle-school and junior-high events, scheduled in the afternoons when many referees and officials are still clocked in at their day jobs.
That's one reason why teen officials are a hot commodity. Many are available after their own classes when they can be paired with a mentor or veteran referee for younger players' games.
Though the exact number of teens officiating through many of these organizations is not available, officials there say it's fewer than 5 percent of their total membership.
That's why many officiating and youth sports organizations are actively recruiting teens.
"We're reaching out to high-school seniors and letting the juniors know about us," says Jason Crider of the Pacific Northwest Basketball Officials Association.
"We tell them they can be around a sport they have a passion for, have a good job in the evening when they're not in school, and be ready to earn some extra cash in college."
Referees assigned through the three local associations tend to earn about $25 to $30 for each middle-school game, and $35 to $50 for each high-school basketball game they officiate.
Other organizations, including local soccer clubs, Boys & Girls Clubs, Little Leagues and city parks departments, are hiring refs as young as 12 and 13 for starting jobs that can pay $10 to $20 per game.
At Kirkland Boys & Girls Club, where referees often receive early training in sports rules as summer camp counselors, Executive Director Doug Wozeniak says hiring teens for other youth sports is a win/win situation.
"Even kids as young as 13 can learn responsibility, teamwork and earn a fair wage all while providing a service to our club," says Wozeniak. "It's not just about the sport and the fun; it's about giving back to other kids."
But Cathy Powers, education committee chair for Seattle Soccer Referee Association, urges parents to carefully consider whether their child is suited for the work.
"It's a tough job and not everybody is cut out for it," she cautions.
"Most of these kid refs are active in their sports, they're good students, they're active in school and they have a lot of extracurricular activities. They're fairly confident. But most people will say that the primary reason most referees quit is that they don't like being yelled at."
Early officials' training, says Stordahl, focuses on rules.
Later courses and training, he adds, "develop people skills. We show how to defuse a situation. If you can communicate well and work hard, you'll do well. But I always have to tell our people that even on the best night, the crowd is only going to like them 50 percent of the time."
Enraged parents and coaches can take their toll on sports officials especially youths, he says.
The highest turnover occurs in "that first one to two years. But we work to continue developing their skills through training. If we can keep a young official for three to four years, they're often hooked for life.
"The other piece of this is that with these skills, high school kids can go anywhere and there's an association they can transfer to," Stordahl says.
"We've even had some of our military folks officiating when they've been stationed elsewhere. Wherever there's a sport, there's a need for officials who can earn a little bit of money and stay in good shape being around a sport they love. There aren't too many job opportunities like that."
After the Seattle City Youth Soccer Tournament that starts this month and runs through January, Uppinghouse plans to return for another season.
"You do get yelled at by just about everyone, and when it pours down rain and you're completely drenched, it kinda sucks," the Shoreline teen says.
"But I can walk or ride my bike to most games, and I can schedule my own games. I like it because you get paid a lot to be around soccer. Most kids my age don't have those kinds of jobs."
Washington Officials Association: Provides referees, umpires and officials to all middle-, junior-high and high-school sporting events including gymnastics, swimming, soccer and more from its pool of 8,000 certified officials. Hiring as young as 15 years. www.woa-officials.com
Pacific Northwest Basketball Officials Association: Provides referees for middle-, junior-high and high-school games from Auburn to South Snohomish County, and Seattle to Mount Si. Hiring as young as 15 years. www.pnboa.org
Seattle Soccer Referee Association: Provides referees and sideline officials for games throughout the Seattle area. Other local soccer clubs have referee associations with hiring needs, too. Hiring as young as 12 years. www.seattlerefs.org
Boys & Girls Clubs: Provides officials for basketball, soccer, flag football and other youth sports typically training and promoting club members. Hiring as young as 13 years. King County: www.positiveplace.org.
Seattle Officials Women's Basketball: Nearly 170 members are officials for middle-, junior-high and high-school girls games from Auburn to South Snohomish County, and Seattle to Mount Si; needs another 20 referees. Hiring as young as 15 years. www.sowb.org
Seattle Parks and Recreation: More than 150 officials 25 percent of them teens referee five seasonal sports. Only those 16 or older may officiate games for 10- to 17-year-olds; those 14 to 15 may oversee games for 8- and 9-year-olds. Hiring as young as 14 years. 206-684-7093
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