The high school football playoffs are underway across Louisiana and making those games happen has become a lot more challenging.
The reason? A growing shortage of referees.
It’s a growing problem across the country as well as here in Louisiana.
And the high quality of athletes in Louisiana only makes the problem worse.
In the 70s, four-man crews were the norm, but now that players are faster and bigger, seven-man crews are the norm, as that’s what’s needed to do a fair job.
For example, in the regular season’s final week, a matchup between power-schools Karr and Warren Easton took place in a packed Behrman Stadium.
The State of Louisiana produces the third most big-time college players per capita.
Karr has had 20 Power Five signees in the last decade, the most in the state.
The game had all the markings of a classic with terrific players, coaching and the top line of officials assigned to the contest.
Skip Chatelain made sure to put a Superdome-caliber crew in place for the game. Skip is in charge of scheduling which officials work which games in the New Orleans districts – one of 10 districts across the state.
“This sounds silly, but as an official coming out of the tunnel, I get a rush,” said Chatelain.
The men in the stripes were out there because of their love for the game. No one is getting rich as most of the officials are making $95 per contest.
Bryan Laiche was on the sidelines for 45 years. He’s making $50 to run the clock at the stadium. He does it because he loves it.
“I remember a state championship game a few years ago in the Superdome, when it was all over, we hugged each other,” he recalled.
The problem is, fewer and fewer guys want to do it.
And it doesn’t look to get better anytime soon. The average age of a prep official used to be in the 40s, now it’s 51. At some point in the future, they’re going to have to replace a lot of older guys. And right now, they don’t have the numbers for replacement.
Skip Chatelain and company are actively recruiting the next generation.
Alex Dicharry is Louisiana’s youngest official. He’s 19 years old and a student at UNO. He said he’s found his passion.
For this game Alex is on the chain crew. He does officiate other games. In the past, inexperienced guys wouldn’t be put on the field so quickly. That’s changed and that’s a negative effect of the referee shortage.
In some cases across the state, coaches have been asked to move games to Thursday night because there weren’t enough guys to effectively staff the Friday schedule. Across the state, the effort is made to have seven-man crews, but, due to shortages, in some cases there are six-man crews, in some drastic cases, a five-man crew.
For now, they have enough guys to cover all their big games, with full crews. But, the fact is, fewer new guys are joining up.