MEDFORD - There was everything you would expect to find under the Friday Night Lights. The cheerleaders, band, and football team all playing their part seamlessly. But this varsity game is being held on a Thursday. It turns out they didn't have much of a choice.
Medford is just one city in Massachusetts that chose to hold its varsity football games on Thursday nights this season due to a referee shortage.
Richard Pearson is the associate director of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association. Pearson said the number of officials enlisted dropped by 1,000 from a high of 5,800 before the pandemic. That shortfall is causing a logistical nightmare for the MIAA and athletic directors statewide.
"It's that number of officials dropping precipitously causing us our challenge," said Pearson.
This year, Pearson said roughly 10% of all high school football games would be played on a Thursday to accommodate the availability of the existing referees.
As for the reason behind the shortage, Pearson said early retirement from the pandemic was a contributing factor but most of the issues lie in cases of parents and fans behaving badly. Conduct in the stands that has resulted in fights, verbal attacks and in some cases, referees being physically assaulted.
Jack Walsh has been a high school football referee for 35 years. "I like being around here," Walsh said. "It's fun it's a really fun sport to officiate."
Walsh said recruiting new officials has proven to be difficult. Recent college graduates are less enticed by the money to sign up with some games happening hours away from home.
Walsh also acknowledged conduct as a contributing factor. "We have some court cases with some of the abuse things from fans, parents, and different things like that. It is tough to get people to come out here to officiate the game because of that," Walsh said.
The MIAA said it is currently in a massive recruiting effort and added every sport has been impacted by the official shortage.
for more features.