Camden Herrick, 16, a junior on the Skowhegan Area High School soccer team, began officiating youth soccer games two years ago. He plans to officiate high school games once he enters college. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Camden Herrick was looking for a part-time job that would keep him connected to his favorite sport. So he signed up for an officiating course and has been working as a referee at youth soccer games for two years.

Herrick, a 16-year-old junior at Skowhegan Area High, wants to officiate high school games once he enters college.

“It’s helped me as a soccer player,” he said. “You understand the game more. When my teammates get upset with a call, I tell them the ref is doing their best.”

Officiating crews could use many more like him. The pool of game officials to work high school games is at a precarious level in Maine and across much of the nation, regardless of the sport. The average age of game officials in Maine is 56, making it imperative to recruit and retain younger people. Verbal abuse from fans and coaches is cited as the biggest reason why it is hard to attract and keep new referees.

Herrick already has gotten a dose of that.

He was officiating a girls’ youth soccer state tournament game this summer when a coach loudly complained about what she perceived as a missed call. After Herrick let her know, hey that’s enough, she continued to complain.


“I gave her a yellow card, and she shut right up,” he said of taking command of the situation. “You have to be in control.”

With the fall high school sports season set to begin this week, the ranks of game officials are stretched thin, but they should be adequate to ensure all varsity games will have referees, said Jeff Benson, the commissioner of officials for the Maine Principals’ Association, the agency that oversees high school sports in the state. To pull that off, some games on the schedule will have to be moved to other days of the week.


In football, there will be more games on Thursdays, along with the traditional Friday night games. There are 180 game officials this season, according to Allan Snell, the officials’ liaison to the MPA Football Committee – 195 are needed to cover every game each week with each official working only one game. Last fall, the Southwestern Maine Board of Football Officials, which primarily serves Cumberland and York counties, had 58 officials, down from 84 in 2019.

“It’s a never-ending battle, and it’s nationwide,” Benson said. “We’re not unique.”

Dana Pappas, director of officiating services with the National Federation of State High School Associations, said the number of game officials decreased 9 percent decreased from the 2018-19 school year to 2021-22. Part of that can be attributed to officials who stepped away because of COVID-19 concerns, she said. Last year, the number of game officials nationally rebounded by 6 percent from 2019-20, and Pappas said she is still analyzing the data to determine how much of that increase was from veteran officials returning after their COVID concerns eased.


In Maine, most fall sports are struggling to field enough officials for varsity games.

The pool of field hockey officials in Maine has dropped from 90 to 72 since 2019, with five or six new officials expected to start doing games this year, said Kim Ballantyne, a longtime official and liaison to the MPA field hockey committee. In the Augusta/Waterville area, there are now 23 field hockey officials, down from 30 last year.

“This will definitely make it difficult to fill all of the games,” said Laurie Leavitt, a field hockey official and the assigner of officials in central Maine.

In soccer, there are eight regional boards of officials, said Alex Pleau, president of the Maine Association of Soccer Officials. The South Central board, of which Pleau is a member, serves schools in the Lewiston/Auburn/Rumford area, and is down to 20 members covering seven schools.

“We used to have around 40 guys or so 10 years ago,” he said.

Volleyball is one sport bucking the trend heading into the fall, with 65 officials statewide, up by a dozen from last season, according to Jeff Scully, the officials’ liaison to the MPA volleyball committee. Several of the recruits are officials Scully knows from other sports, he said.



Last October, Scully put together results from a survey sent to game officials throughout the state. In all, 495 high school officials responded, with 14 sports represented. The average age of officials who responded to the survey was 56. Officials under the age of 40 made up just 12 percent. Two-thirds were at least 50 years old.

“We’ve got nobody jumping in to take their place,” Scully said.

When asked to cite the biggest obstacles to attracting new game officials, 78 percent of those surveyed cited perceived or real abuse from parents or fans as a factor. Half of the officials responding said they have been abused verbally or physically by a coach, fan or student athlete to the extent they reported it to the host school’s athletic director.

Ballantyne, the field hockey official, said the problem seems to have gotten worse in recent years, and players who perhaps would have considered officiating have noticed.

“Young officials just starting out don’t want to have anything to do with that,” she said.


Ron Kramer, 65, a longtime official who works soccer, ice hockey and boys’ lacrosse games, officiated a hockey game this summer at the Family Ice Center in Falmouth. One fan was so verbally abusive, Kramer left the ice and refused to return from the locker room until the fan was removed from the arena. Scully and Pleau have similar stories about dealing with fans who cross the line.

They point out, though, that they are all experienced officials. A younger official just starting out is more likely to be hesitant when dealing with abusive fans.

Twenty-two states have statutes regarding verbal or physical assault of game officials. In New England, just Massachusetts and Rhode Island have such laws. In Massachusetts, anyone over the age of 16 who directs verbal abuse at an official or game participant can be subject to a $50 fine.

“If we had a zero-tolerance policy towards fan behavior (in Maine), that would be a good help,” Pleau said.

Scully is a baseball umpire and repeatedly hears complaints from fans.

“I just finished the season and wondered if I can do this another year,” he said. “I hear it all season long in baseball. (Parents) pay $5,000-6,000 for summer ball and they think that buys them the right to yell and scream at umpires.”



Others cite low pay as a deterrent to officiating. This fall, game officials will be paid $77 to $82 per varsity high school game in Maine, depending on the sport, along with mileage reimbursement (45 cents per mile). If an official is able to car pool to a game with another official, he or she is paid an additional fee depending on the distance. According to the contract the Maine Principals’ Association put forward to each officiating board, game officials will be paid $87.50 per varsity game as of the 2024-25 school year, regardless of the sport.

Darren Allen, the boys’ soccer coach at Mt. Abram High in Strong, suggested that a pay bump might be one way to attract new and younger game officials, but acknowledged the challenge goes far deeper than that.

“I’m concerned with the lack of young officials in the pool,” he says. “I see guys, and this is not a negative in any way, but I’m seeing guys (who were referees) when I played. That’s great, but there has to be some program to funnel in and make it attractive for some young people to go officiate.”

The Field Hockey Umpires Association has taken ads out in the MPA’s state championship game programs in an effort to recruit newcomers. The Bangor board of football officials has taken out ads in newspapers inviting newcomers to take the officiating course offered each year.

In recruiting new officials, the sales pitch has to revolve around having fun while staying involved in a sport you love, veteran officials said. If it’s not fun, why do it, Kramer said.


Pleau, the head of the state’s soccer officials, said he got into officiating a decade ago when he overheard people talking about it as he worked out at an Auburn gym. Pleau began with lacrosse, then added soccer the following fall. He threw himself into it, going to games just to study how the refs worked and to ask them questions. In this regard, Pleau knows he’s the exception and not the norm.

“I never considered I could become a ref. You show up for games and they’re there. Basic awareness (about becoming a game official) is lacking,” Pleau said. “It takes a certain type. There’s a lot of alphas who officiate. You need to be personable, you need to be stern, and you need to be able to deal with crazy stuff that pops up.”

Jeff Mertzel, a longtime official who works football, basketball and baseball games, said he thinks veteran officials like him need to focus on working with newcomers to understand their concerns before they decide to leave officiating.

“The sense of belonging is huge and if we forget this aspect of officiating, we may lose members as well. I remember the senior members of the boards I joined making sure I was included in many different aspects of officiating and that really made me feel comfortable and gave me a sense of belonging,” Mertzel said.

Ballantyne said when she pitches the idea of officiating to high school and college field hockey players, she focuses on the schedule flexibility it provides as opposed to coaching.

“You still get to be part of the game. It’s the best seat in the house. You get to stay a part of the game you love,” said Bill Leary, a longtime football official and youth baseball umpire from Fairfield. “It’s a great opportunity and extremely rewarding.”

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