‘We have to play the game anyway:’ Referee shortage impacts SCHS student athletes

Due to COVID-19, a shortage of referees has become a challenge for high schools across the nation. At SCHS, JV and varsity teams alike have experienced the effects of this shortage through schedule changes.

During last year’s season, the baseball team experienced multiple occurrences where there were an insufficient number of umpires. According to varsity baseball head coach Pedro Martinez, the varsity team does not have issues with fielding umpires due to their league, but the JV team has faced problems.

“We have to play the game anyway, so when there’s one umpire, the game does go on,” Martinez said.

Martinez mentioned he understands the difficulty that comes with umpiring and therefore tries to limit his frustration.

“I try to not get too overly dramatic over a call that might have not gone our way because I’d like to put myself in their shoes, and it’s difficult to make that play,” Martinez said.

According to athletic director DeeDee Kiyota, there are two to three organizations who supply SCUSD with referees. She explained the majority of the referees are working two jobs, meaning the organizations are always looking for young people to hire.

“They’re looking for people who love the sport, who finished high school but aren’t moving on as an athlete in college,” Kiyota said.

Certain sports like volleyball do not have an issue fielding umpires for games but struggle to have a sufficient amount during tournaments. Sophomore Dania Gizaw, who is a player on varsity, mentioned that her coach helps protect their players from the strain of not having referees.

“It’s more of an issue for the coaches than it is for the players because they worry about it,” Gizaw said. “I don’t think they put that stress on players.”

Martinez accepts that many of the umpires are retiring, but he often discourages his players from becoming umpires due to the banter from spectators.

“They’re (the umpires) just getting too old and they’re retirement age now. There’s not enough young officials, umpires and referees getting into the field because of unruly parents and sometimes coaches too,” Martinez said. “That takes away the fun from the volunteer that is usually with the umpire.”

According to Kiyota, the district is unable to pay the referees a sufficient amount due to their restricted budget. She also mentioned that disrespect toward referees also plays a factor in the shortage.

“There’s certain teams, coaches and players that aren’t very respectful,” Kiyota said. “Maybe we can do some training on that if it’s all about respect.”

Although Martinez does not encounter too many conflicts involving SCHS parents and players, he mentioned that he does have players who express their opinions on calls made.

“We have players now and then who are very passionate about a call that might never have gone their way, and they let it express themselves,” said Martinez.

Martinez added that the atmosphere behind the backstop can become toxic, leading to some parents having to move away from the situation.

“They actually don’t watch the game behind, or what stands are on our baseball field. They actually watch behind the fence here to get away from all that hoopla – and less noise – just to watch their kid play,” Martinez said.

Throughout his coaching career, Martinez has emphasized the importance of establishing relationships with the umpires to minimize banter.

“That’s what I try to do as a coach,” Martinez said. “I build connections with them, so I don’t feel hostile and have more of a friendly conversation when I disagree with a call. It helps my situation out with them being here on our campus.”