WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — The start of a new school year means the beginning of a brand new season of high school sports for student athletes.
But some high schools, including Pilgrim and Mount Hope, are being forced to shuffle their football schedules around due to a nationwide referee shortage.
Tom Marcello, assistant executive director of the Rhode Island Interscholastic League (RIIL), tells 12 News that some districts have opted to forgo their popular Friday night games and instead reschedule them for Thursday night or Saturday afternoon.
“We have a full slate on Friday nights,” Marcello said. “We have as many games as we can possibly have.”
Marcello is choosing to look on the bright side, however.
“I think it’s a unique opportunity to be one of the only shows in town on a Thursday,” he explained.
The National Federation of State High School Association reports a loss of 50,000 referees and umpires nationwide since 2018.
Rhode Island is one of the many states feeling those effects.
“COVID definitely didn’t help,” Marcello said. “We had a lot of officials that were older that didn’t feel comfortable during COVID, and a lot of them didn’t come back.”
Marcello is reminding parents to be patient, adding that many of the state’s referees are working overtime to ensure all games are covered.
“They’ve been dedicated in making themselves available, they’ve done a great job,” Marcello said.
Marcello told 12 News that the RIIL has explored every avenue when it comes to combatting staffing shortages, including reaching out to neighboring states to help with coverage.
And it’s not just an issue on the gridiron, Marcello said, adding that the shortage is being felt across all high school sports.
“We’ve had a number of sports that, for a long time, have had a limited number of officials,” Marcello said. “We have a national campaign going on right now and people can call and ask how to be officials.”
Anyone who is considering becoming a referee or wants more information can learn more by clicking here.