NHIAA will hold job fair Sunday in Concord to recruit officials

Monitor staff
Friday, April 13, 2018

The pool of high school athletic officials is getting smaller, and the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association is trying to solve the problem here in the Granite State.

Part of that initiative begins Sunday with the NHIAA’s first Officials Fair at NHTI in Concord.

The scene will look familiar to anyone who has attended a job or college fair. The various athletic officiating associations – from field hockey and soccer to wrestling and track and field – will have booths set up in NHTI’s Wellness Center from 1 to 3 p.m.

“We thought it was certainly worth our time and effort to recruit some of these people in our ranks and to provide this essential service to our student-athletes and our schools,” NHIAA Executive Director Jeff Collins said. “We just recognize the need and that numbers are declining.”

The trend reaches across the country. A report published last month revealed the number of licensed officials in Illinois has dropped 11 percent from 2012 to 2017, and more than 120 officials stepped away in the last year.

Collins couldn’t point to one reason for the decline in New Hampshire and beyond, and reports suggest several reasons why officials leave the job. Criticism from fans and coaches are part of it, but life changes such as marriage, having children, moving out of state or getting a new job can also force someone to hang up the whistle.

Collins did point to a solution, and it’s a simple one – amplify recruitment.

“To replenish the number of officials, we felt it is important to partner with our sports officials organizations to get out the word and put this thing together,” he said about the fair.

This is the first job fair the NHIAA has put on for officials, Collins said, and if the turnout Sunday is low it won’t discourage the organization going forward. Another event like this is being planned for the fall and could continue annually. The NHIAA is just trying to get people through the door, the first step to becoming an official.

The NHIAA website has links to all of New Hampshire’s officiating associations for different sports. The site also shares information on how to apply to become an official. For a long time, this has been the main avenue for people interested in getting involved.

Now, the NHIAA is trying to cast a wider net.

“We’re having ongoing dialogues behind the scenes on other things we can do to get people to come in, and the officials organizations are doing these on their own as well,” Collins said.

Last month, the New Hampshire Baseball Umpires Association held its first training session in Laconia for new and returning umpires. More than 20 people attended, including four boys still in high school. Jim Fletcher, supervisor of umpires for the NHBUA, said it was the highest turnout he’s seen in a few years for the beginning of the spring season.

Collins said track and field is one sport in particular that needs more officials. Several events are held at once during a high school meet, with action happening in the infield at the same time as timed events on the track. This requires more officials and judges to oversee the competition compared to, for example, a basketball game with two referees.

Staying connected to the sport one may have played in high school or beyond is one of the main attractions for officials, especially when coaching doesn’t interest them.

“Perhaps being involved with that team experience isn’t there for people anymore,” Collins said. “Joining the ranks of the officials organization is another great way to stay connected to the sport that you love and still be a part of that team aspect. Although you’re not running in the event, you can lend your expertise to judge the event.”

More information on this weekend’s Officials Fair can be found at NHIAA.org.

(Nick Stoico can be reached at nstoico@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickStoico.)