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Hey lady, wanna referee a high school football game?

Texas could really use you.

The Houston chapter of the Texas Association of Sports Officials is somewhere between 50 and 200 officials short for the 2017 football season.

TASO Executive Director Michael Fitch has referred to the statewide shortfall of referees as ‘crisis-level,’ and the rapid expansion – particularly in Houston – of numerous districts and the opening of new schools has stretched an already-thin roster of officials even further.

The officiating organization, which staffs both UIL and TAPPS contests, needs bodies badly, and there is a very noticeable demographic that isn’t signing up to referee: women.

At a June 24 new-official training at the Campbell Center, only two of the 40 trainees (five percent) were women, which crew chief and trainer Eric Dumatrait said is about par for the course.

Comprising 51 percent of the general population, but just five percent of the TASO workforce, is a pretty startling discrepancy, if that number is accurate organizationally. There is no way to be sure, though, as TASO doesn’t track membership demographic information like gender or race, Fitch said by phone last week.

Fitch said that the primary concern – especially with the deadline to sign up as a new official looming – is getting more bodies in striped shirts, and equipping them to succeed once they’re in them. To that end, he would be delighted if more women signed up to officiate, and he said that, anecdotally, he actually has seen an uptick in interest among women since Sarah Thomas became the NFL’s first full-time referee in April of 2015.

“We just need more people,” Fitch said. “I’ve been officiating high school football since 1973, and even in the seventies, we had females who came in. There’s obviously more now, and the fact that we have a woman officiating in the NFL shines a light on that.”

Officiating for TASO is a fairly lucrative part-time job (Houston-area crew chief Don Martinez estimated that $2,500-$4,000 was a reasonable expectation for 10 weeks of diligent work), and, for someone who loves sports, offers the opportunity to be outside, to work with student-athletes, refine one’s knowledge of the game, etc.

While it’s certainly not for everyone – and Dumatrait, Fitch, Martinez and the rest acknowledge that explicitly – officiating is a relatively high-paying part-time gig with some unique perks.

Why aren’t more women signing up?

See here for the background. I’m going to take a wild guess at that question and suppose that it’s the same reason why more women don’t run for office: Because they need to be asked. I’m sure TASO is a supportive organization, and that the women who go through their training and get certified to work high school football games do just fine and generally consider it a positive experience. I’m just saying that if they want more women to join up, they need to actively recruit them rather than point out how excellent they are and hope for the best. Given that this is the second story we’ve seen in a bit more than a month about the critical shortage of people to officiate the games, you’d think they’d have more of a sense of urgency. Get on it, TASO.

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3 Comments

  1. Bayard Rustin says:

    I’d be interested in the demographics of the referees too. Maybe men and women of color aren’t being recruited or don’t feel welcome.

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    How are referees currently being recruited? I see there’s a problem hiring and retaining enough people to do that. I don’t see that there’s necessarily some conspiracy to keep women from these jobs. We’re talking about football here. Chances are, anyone qualified enough to know all the rules, and the intricacies of the game is going to be former football player. Most people that play football just happen to be men. Sometimes there’s really NOT a misogynist under every bed.

    Seems like the best way to address this problem is to advertise. Surely local radio and TV stations would be glad to have an easy fluff piece about the shortage of referees they could run. Also, making a short announcement during local games would seem to be cheap and appropriate advertising.

  3. General Grant says:

    Sports officials don’t post openings to the general public like normal jobs. They don’t really recruit at all, Theu just tend to attract people already with a history in the sport, who tend to be men. This basically explains this whole issue.

    Also, there are other sports and other official organizations. TASO is not the only game in town, and other chapters tend to be less white than TASO.