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Officiating facing numbers problem across Oklahoma, many other states

As far back as the early 2000s, high school officials believed they had a nationwide referee shortage on their hands.

Barry Mano, who founded the National Association of Sports Officials in Racine, Wis., told the Associated Press in last year that 90 percent of refs he surveyed in 2002 felt the scarcity, although the NASO kept no actual data.  

State officiating organizations have expressed similar concern as early as this fall, from bustling metros to sparsely populated areas. The Dallas Football Officials Association told WFAA-TV it was down 100 officials (20 percent) from last year. Colorado rescheduled a number of high school football games because it lacked bodies, according to the Durango Herald. 

Younger generations have less interest in officiating sports these days for a number of reasons. For some, the pay benefits don't outweigh the constant criticism, and sometimes safety concerns, the job involves. 

Basketball feels the pinch too.  

Nick Miller, a Lawtonian who works as an officiating observer for the Oklahoma Secondary School Activity Association, said Southwest Oklahoma's pool of basketball officials is relatively healthy. Northwest Oklahoma is another story. 

"That area needs to be built up, basketball officiating-wise. We need to do some work out there," Miller said. "It had to be done in the early 1990s; that pool that was created then has either already retired or are near the end of their officiating career, and we haven't done anything to bring in new blood that way. 

"We've got problems down here, somewhat, in that area (of numbers). I imagine in other parts of the state it's the same way. Our population being what it is, we need to get some more guys in."

How will Oklahoma expand its basketball referee pool?

Also, how will it recruit new refs under the strain of additional playoff games? OSSAA member schools will soon decide whether to add another high school basketball classification, and early straw polls show school leaders are warm to the idea. 

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