HERRIN — it’s clinic time for area officials. Aaron Wright is getting ready for his 27th season as a football official.
"Once it hits August, late July or August, I get amped up for football season," said Wright.
The problem is, the number of officials that share his passion is dwindling.
It’s not just a region or an Illinois problem–it’s nationwide. As older officials are retiring, fewer and fewer younger people are taking up the whistle. According to the IHSA, 57 percent of the state’s nearly 2500 football officials are 50 or older.
Less than 10 percent are 30 or younger.
"Quite frankly, when they go to games, and even if it’s junior high school or high school, you’ve got parents screaming," said Wright. "You’ve got coaches screaming, and it scares nervous, young officials off. "
"A lot of it has to do with fans and coaches," said 19-year official Art Ashbrook. "A lot of it also has to do with just people aren’t being encouraged to stick with it. "
Ashbrook believes a temporary solution is schools scheduling more Saturday games to help spread out the need for officials. Long-term–training and support are important.
"Young people need to know they’ve got support and help," said Ashbrook. "That’s part of what we as the older officials, what we have to do is to nurture them and get them to stay with it. "
As far as recruiting future officials, Wright says his message is simple.
"If you enjoy sports, and you enjoy being around young people–I’ve had some of the best seats for some of the biggest games in southern Illinois over the years."