After a pattern of dwindling numbers for years, attorney by day official by night Thomas Vallandingham is reaching out to the community in hopes of gaining more referees to help kids not miss any soccer games, as well as any other sports.
Kentucky is no stranger to the ref shortage, but the numbers took an even larger drop after COVID-19. Since the pandemic, depending on the sport Vallandingham says that there was a 40% loss in participating officials.
“In the local MKSOA (Midwest Kentucky Soccer Officials Association) which covers the 3rd Region (same area as Basketball), and often helps out the 2nd region when they are short, we went from 50+ members when I joined in 2012-2013 to just over 20 members in 2021,” Vallandingham said. “On any given night I may only have 15-18 officials to cover games. This means only six games can be covered with a three-person crew. This ref shortage, as of yet, has not caused any games to be outright cancelled.”
While it hasn’t gotten to the point where games are being cancelled just yet, Vallandingham said that if numbers don’t start to trend upwards it could happen. It even had an effect on postseason play this year in high school sports.
“That is only because as the assignor, I have, with the outstanding cooperation of schools, coaches, and ADs, have reworked schedules preseason to move games from night with 10-plus games to night where there are not as many games,” Vallandingham said. “We have moved game times on nights so officials could work a match in one county or one site and then travel to a different site later that night to work another game. We even had to do this in the district playoffs and regional playoffs to accommodate the number of officials.”
Last year there were a total of 22 registered officials and Vallandingham had access to another five or so from different associations. With the MKSOA responsible for 20 junior varsity and varsity programs and 12 or so middle school programs, they need more officials for the 500 games that they have a year.
“If we can get to 35 or more the pressure would really be lessened,” Vallandingham said. “We are working with razor thin margins when it comes to covering games. It’s only been due to the hard work of myself and the schools to figure out solutions that games haven’t been cancelled.”
In order to become an official, Vallandingham said that the certification process is very quick and easy. To apply you must be at least 18 years old and a high school graduate and you will have to fill out an application and pay the registration fee of $40 and the licensing fee of $25 per sport.
Once one is licensed they will need to attend annual rules meetings that will introduce them to the latest rule changes and interpretations, while also needing to become an active member of a local officials’ association.
After registering, they will receive a rule book. There is a 50-question online test and once passing, they can start calling middle school and high school soccer.
There are some free assigning websites which require accounts to be set up in order to receive games and get paid (all done electronically), but you won’t be thrown onto the field without some experience. MKSOA offers on-field training during live game (scrimmages) scenarios.
One would also have to pay for the official soccer uniform of the KHSAA, but with pay being increased to $100 for a JV/V doubleheader last season it should be no issue.
However, Vallandingham says that money is just a bonus and that the real prize is helping kids get to play each day and connecting with so many people.
“Without dedicated officials willing to work these games, these games don’t get played,” Vallandingham said. “The money is a bonus, but it really is a network of sport-loving good people having fun calling a game.”
Vallandingham said that if someone is unsure of if they have what it takes to be an official, to just know that anyone can do it no matter what knowledge of sports you have.
“I want people to know it doesn’t matter what experience level you have or what your day job is,” Vallandingham said. “We have teachers, attorneys, police officers, IT people, students, and retirees – people from all walks of life officiating sports at night and on weekends. If you played at a high level, great. I can teach you to ref at a high level. If you never played soccer at all but watched your kids, great. I can teach you how to ref. What we are looking for are quality people who have the right approach; the rest everyone can learn.”
Anyone interested in calling for more information can reach out to Vallandingham via email at [email protected], as he would be happy to answer any questions you might have for calling high school soccer.