Busy Friday nights are going to be the norm in Section Five this football season.
It’s great for kids who dream of playing under the Friday night lights and communities who want to make high school football an event. It’s a departure from just over a decade ago where Section Five football weekends were split pretty equally between Friday nights and Saturday afternoons.
And it’s actually causing a pretty large problem. Section Five is having trouble finding enough officials for all these Friday games.
Plans have already been made to use crews of referees from Buffalo and Jamestown on weeks where there are not enough Rochester officials available. That’s not the only change.
“You may see what a lot of other states are doing. You may see Thursday night games,” Section Five football coordinator Scott Barker said. “Still keeping that night atmosphere, getting the officials and being able to split (the work load) up a little bit. We actually do have a few games that have been moved to Thursday night in the overall schedule. So, I think it’s evolving right now.”
Barker thinks it’s likely more games are moved off Friday nights. Saturday afternoon is another possibility.
Varsity games are expected to all be played and with an appropriate level of experienced officials. However, games at the JV and modified levels may have to use officials that are still very much learning the job.
“JV, modified and freshman… these are brand new officials. They were just certified,” Barker says. “We’re really educating our coaches and parents that see this just go easy on these officials. Some of them, it is literally the first game that they will officiate and they need time to grow.”
Section Five has been struggling to keep enough officials in a variety of sports for a few years. The problem with football has been exacerbated by an influx of districts who have recently added new football fields with lights (ie. all three Greece football teams). Those schools, of course, want to use those lights.
One of the larger issues with retaining officials is they just don’t want to take the abuse that comes with almost any American sport these days. Referees who have progressed up to the varsity level usually find a higher level of professionalism and tend to stay longer.
But, only if they last that long.
“The biggest factor for officials leaving after the first year is… they just can’t take the parents and the coaches screaming at them from a sideline the entire time,” Barker said. “They don’t think it’s worth the money and they leave.”
If parents and coaches at the lower levels can’t learn to rein in the attacks on the guys in stripes, school districts might decide it’s not worth the money to pay for those Friday night lights.
At least, not without any officials to work the games.