A huge non-district matchup between Sharyland Pioneer and McAllen Rowe has both teams heated. In the middle of it all is South Texas TASO Official Eddie Duran.
“I’ve been officiating with the RGV TASO Chapter for over 28 years,” Duran said. “I officiate from middle school games to men’s league to any type of level and I love it.”
Faced with heated coaches, screaming fans and fast-paced mayhem, Duran must really love the game, but many don’t share the same passion.
“In some games, a lot of officials get discouraged because it’s a very personal game,” Duran said. “You have to have what we call ‘thick skin’ in the business.”
Over 84 percent of officials cited spectators as treating them unfairly, according to a 2019 National Association of Sports Officials survey. Over 70 percent reported coaches as a major contender.
THE REAL PROBLEM
Though argumentative fans and coaches are an issue, TASO Executive Director Michael Fitch points to three main issues associated with a limited number of referees:
1. An increase in the number of schools
2. An aging demographic of current referees
3. Poor treatment of officials
The introduction and growing popularity of Private and Charter schools have put a major strain on officials. Every new high school requires 32 new officials to manage varsity and junior varsity games alone.
2019 was the first year since 2013 that TASO saw a drop in membership, but the steady increase in schools has regional TASO chapters struggling to cover games outside of tournament and double-header play.
The South Texas TASO Chapter currently has 332 members tasked with covering youth, middle school, sub-varsity, and varsity games from Brownsville to Zapata, a coverage area well over 4800 sq. miles.
“There are times when we don’t have enough referees to cover the games,” Duran added.
Recruitment efforts are common. Duran spends most of his free time recruiting from the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg and Brownsville. Annual camps are also held to entice potential recruits and improve the quality of current members.
State-wide, TASO has debuted programs to promote recruitment at multiple levels.
Students Today are Referees Tomorrow, S.T.A.R.T., focuses on the recruitment of High School seniors who want to give back to the game. A partnership with Mike Pereira’s Battlefields to Ballfields organization is aimed at the recruitment of veterans, offering scholarships for dues and apparel to integrate soldiers back into communities through officiating.
The UIL and TASO have also agreed on a $5 pay increase per entry-level beginning in the 2020-2021 school year for officials across all sports to help boost recruitment. Right now, one varsity game pays roughly $75 per contest, including an additional stipend for longer drives.
From a recruitment effort, the pay and programs will certainly help numbers improve, but, as more schools begin to work their way into the picture, the treatment of referees from fans, coaches and athletes could be a major step in sustaining the quality and quantity of referees in the business.
For more information on becoming an official – you can go to taso.org