Referees are few and far between for many sports in Europe
NAPLES, Italy — With a mere two years’ experience behind him, Air Force Staff Sgt. Kenny Drefke said he is listed as a “veteran expert” in the short-staffed community of referees.
“I’m not quite sure I fit the bill — or should,” said the 31-year-old airman and arbiter of intramural and high school football and basketball games.
But with the shortage of trained and willing referees in the Naples region to call the intramural and high school sports, Drefke has acquired the designation.
“We’re hurting and hurting big time for active members,” said Linda Elliott, president of the Naples Officials Association and the program’s volleyball commissioner.
The pinch is being felt Europe-wide, including in Germany, where the Kaiserslautern Officials Association, for example, has quite a large pool of candidates from which to draw, said Harry Tucker, commissioner for tackle football.
“We also have a membership problem,” Tucker said. “The problem now is that people are not as interested in doing it anymore. Years ago, when you got tired of playing sports, you still stuck with it and got into officiating. But now with the current [operational] tempo, it’s hard to find people who have the time.”
Along with the busy operational tempo, the top reasons for the shortage include: Athletes would prefer to play the sports instead of call them, especially during the playoff season; in Naples, at least, many military members have left their commands and newcomers haven’t filled the vacancies; and many don’t know the association will train and certify people to officiate, Elliott said.
“The main reason is they have no experience [officiating] and are afraid or don’t know what to do about it,” Senior Master Sgt. Tim Huff, vice president of the association and the basketball program commissioner, said. “But we have a good training program and we will train them.”
The certification time frame varies for each sport, and involves classroom and field training.
The Kaiserslautern Officials Association has the contract to officiate all of the Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Europe high school sports in all of Germany.
During the fall football season in the Bavaria region, the number of officials certified to call high school games dropped from 28 to 12 because of deployments and training schedules, Tucker said.
No high school games suffered or were called off, however, said Karen Seadore, the athletic coordinator for DODDS-Europe. But the drawdown in participation means the association relies on the same individuals, and some referees end up driving long distances to call a game, she said.
And while DODDS has a rule that parents cannot officiate a game if their child is playing, Seadore said, the rule has not complicated the issue.
And in Naples, in spite of the shortage, the association never has had to turn down calling a game, Huff said.
“Football is a sport where there is a shortage of referees and we’ve had to use the same officials over and over. There is a limited supply,” he said.
That means refs like Drefke work more, but he said he likes the challenge.
“This has been great for me. I’m a second-year official here and I’ve been able to cut my chops and get a lot more experience I don’t think I otherwise might have had a chance to get.
“But I do wish we had other people to help spread the load,” said Drefke, who also plays the saxophone and clarinet for the Allied Forces Band.
Not all sports suffer, said Huff, who in his military role serves at the chief of community activities at Joint Forces Command Naples. The basketball and softball programs, for example, have enough referees.
Typically, each base has its own officials association, Tucker said. However, those interested in joining the Naples association can e-mail Elliott at: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Those interested in the KOA should mail their information to: KOA, Box 32, Ramstein Community Center, APO, AE 09094.