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SOS: Referee shortage hampering area soccer teams

The Rogue Valley is dealing with an unprecedented shortage of high school soccer referees.

"This is the thinnest I have ever seen," said Randy Struckmeier, Oregon School Activities Association soccer commissioner for Southern Oregon. "And I've been the commissioner for 11 years and a referee for 30."

Struckmeier said he has 34 referees available to officiate matches for the 13 high schools in the area that have teams. Forty-five to 55 people have officiated in the past, he said, creating a major strain on everyone involved and raising the simple question: Why is this happening?

Soccer is highly competitive and physical, requiring fit and knowledgeable officials, Struckmeier said. Younger people are not as interested in refereeing as they were in the past and older referees with experience are either retiring or opting to work college matches around the state, Struckmeier said. He said other counties, like Klamath and Lane, are having similar struggles.

"Southern Oregon is a hotbed for soccer," Struckmeier said. "There are teams — just not referees."

As a result, area squads in the Class 6A Southern Oregon Hybrid, 4A Skyline Conference and 3A Southern Cascade Hybrid have had to reschedule matches this fall.

In short, the process has been a pain for everyone involved.

Each week, Struckmeier has had to telephone athletic directors and coaches to coordinate changes. Several matches that were slated months ago for Tuesdays and Saturdays — when local teams typically play — were shifted to Mondays or Wednesdays.

That trend may continue until the end of the month, when regular-season play wraps up, Struckmeier said.

In turn, athletic directors like North Medford's Tim Sam and other administrators must attend the rescheduled matches as supervisors, which alters their personal schedules and creates more work. Sam has additionally had to communicate travel and schedule changes with teachers and program members.

"I will have 17 or 18 referees available for Tuesdays at 4 p.m.," Struckmeier said. With 13 high schools and most doing varsity and JV matches, I could have over 20 games. With 18 refs."

Said Sam: "They couldn't have one ref per game, where ideally you have at least two and for varsity matches three. It is frustrating."

The Black Tornado clubs have been affected weekly by the shortage, Sam said. Mondays and Wednesdays are not favorable days to play for the North programs, he said.

Struckmeier said he has seen other sports similarly affected, but not as bad as this fall in soccer. Schools with lights — like South Medford, Crater, Grants Pass and Eagle Point — have not been as affected, Struckmeier said.

Sam said local baseball teams experienced a similar shortage several years back, but it was "not this extreme." The North Medford volleyball and football teams have not had to reschedule contests because of referee shortages this fall, Sam said.

Sam said he does not expect a shortage of referees for winter sports.

To become a referee, contact Struckmeier at 541-941-5940 or refsosoa@yahoo.com. Referees are paid between $34 to $49 for junior varsity matches and $48 to $63 for varsity contests. Mileage is 51 cents per mile.

Ultimately, fans should show officials more respect, Sam said.

"Referees are coming off other jobs and sometimes we don't treat them with the dignity that every human deserves," Sam said. "We have to do a better job of treating people with respect whether they get the call right or wrong. Nobody is perfect."

Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email djones@mailtribune.com