SDHSAA addressing ref shortage with new partnership

Published: Aug. 10, 2023 at 6:15 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Nationwide, the average age of officials is nearing 60 years old, this is why on Tuesday, the South Dakota High School Activities Association announced a new partnership with the goal of addressing the official shortage.

Jo Auch, the assistant executive director for the SDHSAA, has seen firsthand how the shortage has grown.

“There’s a need in every sport I don’t think there’s a sport where we have an overabundance of officials. We want to be able to grow that field, there’s no question about that,” Auch said.

This is why Auch helped facilitate this partnership that will bring RefReps into 20 schools across the state.

“We felt that it was a really good investment to start with, just to see what our interest levels in our school was going to be,” Auch said.

Kyle Armstrong, the founder of RefReps has introduced his programs in 32 different states across the country. He’s seen how high the interest level can be and believes South Dakota students will feel the same way.

“86.7% of high school students said they were either already officiating or they have a plan in place to pursue it. It’s taken off like wildfire in all these states,” Armstrong said.

The classes themselves are hybrid, with a rules portion, and in-person practices.

“Week one they may complete modules one and two of our courses. Then on Thursday and Friday, you have 2/3rds of the class playing basketball and the other 1/3 is rotating in and out to help officiate the basketball game,” Armstrong said.

There is also point-of-view video training.

“They’ll see the court exactly like that official did. The point guard drives down the lane. crashes into the opposing team’s center, the video that they’re watching pauses and they’ve got to make a call. Was it a block or a charge?” Armstrong said.

Sportsmanship from fans has always been one of the driving factors pushing officials away, the activity association has been attempting to remedy that.

“I know our schools are trying very hard to make that better, I know the SDHSAA has put fan policies in place with ejections and things of that nature, and punishments with those types of scenarios as well,” Auch said.

RefReps said their program could help even more.

“The kid that comes and mows my yard on Saturday just officiated my younger kid’s game on Wednesday, by nature I’m going to lay off a little bit. So we’re starting to see that organically,” Armstrong said.

RefReps also plans to launch a speakers bureau in the spring.

That part of the program will bring collegiate or professional officials in front of the kids in the class, either in-person or via Zoom, to pass their knowledge onto the students.