This is the last in a series of pre-championship game articles. Come on out Saturday June 1 to see the best ref’s in the state! Photos by Michael Jardine.
Today, let’s talk about lacrosse referees. Specifically, Washington lacrosse referees. Now, I’m going to warn you, this conversation may not be exactly what you’re expecting. We’re not going to bash the referees, or their calls, or their physical abilities. All of those things may be worthy of conversation, complaints and mocking, Lord knows I love to do that. But that’s not we’re going to talk about today. And today I’m not going to be an apologist for referees. I’m not going to say you can’t criticize, chirp or bellow from the sidelines like a drunken sailor. ‘Cause Lord knows I love to do that.
Let’s start by just talking numbers…how many games do you think, high school and youth, are played in the state of Washington between say, February 15th and June 15th? Any idea? I was clueless, so I did a little research.
Two thousand six freaking hundred. Give or take. Think about that.
Think of how many fields have to be scheduled, how many rides have to be coordinated, how many snacks have to be arranged. It’s amazing, and it’s all behind the scenes. And that stuff is all spread out among hundreds if not a thousand team-affiliated volunteers. Although they too are worthy of our adulation, we’re not talking about them today.
Today, we’re talking about the two schmucks that have to show up to each of those games in striped shirts and black socks. The referees. The blind ones. The folks that know less about lacrosse than you, because you’ve watched every one of your kid’s 5/6 games this year (“AND HIS TEAM IS GETTING JOBBED!!!! IT’S A TRAVESTY!”)
But, like I said, today we are not talking about referees’ calls, knowledge or skills. Instead I want you to think about the logistics. How many referees do you think we have in this state? I mean sanctioned, certified, dues-paying, official yellow-flag bearing referees? Any idea? How many officials to handle those 2600 games, two men at a time? 100? 200? 500?
Officially, according to WALOA (That’s Washington Lacrosse Officials Association to you and me) there are 279 registered referees. Now a huge majority of those are kids, usually active high school players. We, in Washington state, rely on them to referee the large portion of our youth games, especially during the high school season. But kids are kids, and of the ones who have registered and signed up to referee, maybe 25% of them drop out because they didn’t understand the time commitment or are otherwise just knuckleheads. That puts us down to about 210 referees.
So, in a fair world, that would mean each referee would be assigned 13 games per season. But the world isn’t fair, many of the youth officials are also high school players, they have practice and games all the time, so schedules often dictate they work less games. Likewise, they can’t really officiate high school games because they are, for the most part, too young and inexperienced. So juggling who and when can be scheduled for what game turns out to be a complicated job. It is currently handled by one volunteer who makes the assignments for all Washington state lacrosse games.
That person has to assign the 2600 games based on many things (including skills, previous coach conflicts, partner compatibility and geographic proximity,) get confirmation from the referees, get them field location information, verify they worked the games, and handle any issues/ejections that happened during the game. That’s a big volunteer job. Oh yeah, and like every other WALOA volunteer, he also referees games himself.
Next, after a referee has worked the game, someone has to get him paid. That entails W-4 information, bank information, timecards and the audits/disputes/arguments associated with that information. This volunteer also has to get the funds for the referees from each of the leagues or clubs, deposit them into an account from which he can pay referees. That usually has to happen monthly, but guess what, sometimes teams don’t pay on time. What a shock. Anyway, we’re talking about around $150k that has to get doled out in small chunks over four months.
So WALOA volunteers get them scheduled, they get them to the right game and they get them paid. They also are responsible for their initial training, in-season evaluation, any needed remedial in-season training and complaints. All that is also handled by referees, volunteering to be administrators.
My point is this. There’s a lot of behind the scenes stuff that goes on just so your little Johnny can get two runs in on the third string middie line. And if you’re looking for a way to help grow the game in the state, think about volunteering to be a referee. Everyone that joins to be an official helps lighten the load for the others involved in the game, and makes it so more kids can play more lacrosse.
The training is pretty intensive, and you then have to get game experience under your belt. No one, and I mean no one, can go from being a coach, player or really educated fan straight into being a referee without training and study. It takes three four hour classes and a Saturday on field practicum. Then you take US Lacrosse’s 100 question test which you have to score 90 or better on.
But you know what? You could do it. Every one of you who is reading this could do it. And if you did, you would be dramatically helping grow the game in the state of Washington. Wait, let me guess, you have some good reasons why you can’t:
“I’m too busy with my family,” you might say. Meet David Lin, he’s got three young kids, a job, he’s the head coach at Meadowdale, and he’s an active referee.
“I travel too much with my job, otherwise I would,” you might say. Meet Jim Franklin, he lives in California. But he referees in Washington and I’m guessing travels more than you do.
“I already volunteer enough time with lacrosse,” you might say. Meet Jim Anderson. He’s a lacrosse dad, he’s a youth coach, he’ll be announcing the Championship games, and he’s an active referee.
“I’m just a lacrosse mom, I can’t referee,” you might say. Meet Ann Christiansen. You might know her as Peter’s mom. He played at Seattle Prep until 2011 and just finished his sophomore season at Clark University (where he had 13 goals and 17 assists.) Ann, is not only a high school lacrosse referee, she’s just been selected to do Saturday’s High School All Star game. That’s quite an honor and she’s just in her second season.
“I’m too old and out of shape,” you might say. Meet me.
That’s right. Even though I’m borderline old and absolutely verifiably out of shape, this year I decided to see if I could help out by learning to referee. So I did the training and the tests, planning on focusing on 5th & 6th grade youth games for the first year or two. But instead, I’ve been assigned done around 20 high school games. That’s how bad the need is. And, by the way, I love doing it.
I’m not very close to being a perfect ref, which kind of surprised me. I’ve watched my two kids play, I watch a lot of high school, NCAA, MCLA, MLL games and NLL games. I know lacrosse pretty well from the sidelines. But I was shocked how hard it is to referee a game. It will take me every bit of the three years they say it takes to get competent. The bad news is that I’ll be refereeing high school games during that time (maybe your kid’s) probably screwing up a bit. The good news is that guys like me take the JV and “C” games which frees up the good refs to do more Varsity games, the games that are much tougher to do.
But the really good news is that I and all the people I mentioned are helping out. We’re helping the sport grow in Washington. But the sport needs more. So now that the season has wound down, now that you can think about how much you and your kids enjoyed it, consider what I’m saying. This sport cannot grow without dramatically more good referees. And they will all come from folks like Dave, Jim, Jim, Ann, me. And you.
Check out www.waloa.info for more information. Training is sometime around February every year. Think about it. Check out our ref’s gallery here. Order some prints, they make great dartboards or Ransom Notes!