Desperate need for more track and field officials

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(Posted Dec. 20, 2018)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

Many high school sports are suffering from a shortage of referees and officials. London resident Terry Nance is working to fix that problem for at least one sport–track and field.

A former London High School athletic director and coach, Nance has worked as a track and field official for many years. In fact, he said many of his fellow regulars are long-timers.

“At meetings, we joke that everybody has gray hair, if they have any. We’re just not getting a lot of new people in,” he said.

Of the 97 certified track officials in Ohio’s Central District–which includes Delaware, Knox, Franklin, Licking, Marion, Madison, Morrow and Union counties, and parts of Fairfield and Pickaway counties–Nance and London resident Lester Barnhart are the only ones who live in Madison County.

Nance isn’t sure why fewer people are signing up to work as sports officials these days. Maybe they think it’s more of a time commitment than it is, he said, or their work schedules make it difficult.

“What I do know is that if you do it, you like it,” he said.

He also knows that without enough officials, meets get cancelled.

“That’s unfortunate for the kids. In track, there aren’t a lot of ‘games,’ like in other sports. I especially hate to see midweek dual meets cancelled because those are the meets where everyone on the team gets to run,” Nance said.

The path to becoming an official is spelled out on the Ohio High School Athletics Association (OHSAA) website at ohsaa.org/officiating/permits. Interested individuals fill out and mail in an application with a $65 fee. Applications for spring sports are accepted Dec. 15-Feb. 15.

Applicants receive an officiating instruction book specific to their sport. After studying the rules, applicants take an online, open-book test. Those who score 80 percent or higher are certified as officials.

For track and field officials, the only expenses are a uniform shirt and, for those who work as starters, a starting gun and shells for the gun. To eliminate hurdles for anyone thinking about becoming an official, Nance said he and other officials are happy to loan starting guns, which can cost about $150, to new officials.

“We’re happy to help in any way we can,” Nance said, noting he is available to help with any step of the process, from the application and testing to the actual work. “I’ve brought new officials along with me to early meets so they can get experience before going out on their own.”

Schools post their need for officials with the local association, and the association secretary sends notifications of openings to all certified officials.

“Finding meets is not a problem. We will help you find work,” Nance said.

The time commitment varies, depending on the type of meet. Smaller meets of two or three teams last two-and-a-half to three hours. Larger weekend invitationals last four to five hours.

The pay varies, too, depending on the meet and the type of officiating needed. Dual meets pay roughly $100, Nance said. Larger meets pay about $150 for starters and clerks; less for other roles. Some schools throw in extra money to cover the cost of starting shells.

Starters are responsible for starting races and calling false starts. Clerks check in athletes, give them lane assignments, and explain starting line rules and relay exchange zones. Umpires look for possible rules violations and report them to referees, who make final judgements on violations. Field events officials organize volunteer helpers and explain and enforce field events rules. For smaller meets, starters often fill multiple roles.

Officials can work as much or as little as their schedules allow.

Nance works five or six meets a week because he can’t say “no.”

“I know what the situation is, and I hate to see kids not get a good experience,” he said.

For more information, call OHSAA’s officiating department at (614) 267-2502, ext. 110, or email officiating@ohsaa.org. Or contact Terry Nance at (740) 506-2905 or tnance5@columbus.rr.com.

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