The future of high school athletics is in jeopardy.
But don't take my word for it.
"Soccer, when I came here, there was maybe a list of a dozen different people who were willing to help out with our junior varsity and varsity games and now that list is down to one," said Charlie Campbell, Brainerd Warriors activities director.
That "one" is one certified official. And it's not just soccer. All sports are seeing a numbers crunch when it comes to finding officials.
Little Falls had to postpone a soccer game this fall due to lack of officials. While no Brainerd soccer games were canceled, Campbell had to jump through hoops to make sure the proper number of certified officials could be found. When none could be found, he jumped through more hoops.
"I had requested an officials waiver one other time in my career as an AD, 11 years as an AD, and I had to do it four or five times in soccer this year just so we could have a legal contest," he said.
A waiver, agreed to by coaches of both teams, permits people to officiate without the certification typically required at varsity-level sports.
Last season, some area youth hockey games were postponed due to the lack of officials. Twenty-eight ice hockey officials covered about 2,000 assignments in the Brainerd lakes area.
"Games have been canceled because of no officials," said Dave Rozinka of the Brainerd Officials Association. "Most of the officials are getting older with less replacement. We had a campaign where we just put it out to the youth hockey association and we probably had 15 or 20 kids sign up around the age of 12 to 13. That's great because they'll replace us someday, but right now they're probably playing when we need refs or they're out of town when we need in-town refs. There's never a mix and you can only ref one level below your age group. So if you're a Bantam, which is eighth- and ninth-graders, you can only ref downward.
"We need that person that just graduated from high school. Anywhere from (ages) 18 to 50 or whatever. That's where we need officials."
Staples-Motley Activities Director Travis VanOverbeke said finding officials for lower-level activities is difficult and getting harder.
"It's becoming a problem and an area of great concern for the near future for all levels," VanOverbeke said.
Campbell said because of certification and registration, the situation for varsity officials is worse.
"It is an issue at the lower levels, but it's even more of an issue at the varsity level because you have to use registered officials," Campbell said. "You can use anyone you want for the lower levels. Somebody in a pinch. When you say, 'We can't play this game unless you help,' somebody often steps up to help. You don't have that luxury with a varsity contest. It is a challenge, and if you look at all the major team sports, there is an imbalance, of what I would call, the seasoned guys versus the younger, newer officials. You definitely see more of those older guys who have been doing it a while."
What's the solution? For those who've thought about being an official before, or are now, Campbell said the best way to get into officiating is to contact a school district's activities director. They'll put those interested in contact with people like Rozinka or Kevin Ruen on the basketball side.
For hockey, Rozinka said interested parties can go to www.usahockey.com and click on the officials tab.
"It's pretty easy to get into," Rozinka said. "You register. You pay a fee. You go to a seminar. You take a closed-book test, which isn't very hard until you get up to Level 3, and then you have an open book test that's 100 questions.
"The clinics used to go all day, but they've shortened them and added online modules. You can watch those at anytime in your day on your own time. There is also safe sport training that needs to be completed."
Brainerd School District 181 just added lacrosse to its roster of activities. Campbell is already dreading finding officials for that sport.
"I'm terrified," Campbell said. "It's going to be a huge challenge. I'm in the process of building a schedule and hopefully we'll have something fairly significant in terms of a schedule in the next two weeks and then I can look, at least for home games, how in the world am I going to get officials? They're likely going to have to come from the metro area so you're looking at some extra cost. More importantly, we have to have the game, so you have to be willing to do that."
Rozinka said the biggest reason he sees few people getting into officiating is the verbal abuse officials take.
However, Rozinka believes the benefits outweigh the negatives.
"It's great exercise," he said. "It's the best seat in the house. You make a little extra money and you get to be part of the game. That's the biggest selling points that we can tell people."
Activities directors across the area are seeing the pressure and need for more officials. And they see it getting worse unless an influx of young adults step up.
"It depends on the sport. It depends on the geography, but we absolutely need to have more officials," said Campbell.