Kern County high school athletics face worsening referee shortage

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Baseball and softball games canceled. Football games shifted to Thursday or Saturday.

Officials have been tight in Kern County for years, but after several seasons affected by COVID, more refs than usual have had enough.

“What happened between the spring and the fall this year: our football numbers drastically dropped, as did, well, all of our sports,” Kern County Officials Association president Mark Roberts said.

It’s the same story across the country: more referees are leaving, and fewer are coming in to take their place. It’s concerning officials and athletic directors responsible for setting sports schedules.

“I think dire would be if we’re having to cancel games because of lack of officials, which we’ve seen both in baseball and softball,” Cesar E. Chavez High School athletic director Jim McConnell said. “So we are almost at that point.”

McConnell has seen firsthand the effects of the shortage on players. In an uncertain time, the scheduling whirlwind creates further confusion.

“When you tell a kid, ‘We’ve got Friday night football games,’ and all of a sudden, ‘Oh by the way, next week, it’s Thursday,’ it’s like, ‘What? I thought only freshman and sophomores play on Thursday,’ or, ‘That won’t give us enough days to prepare,’” McConnell said.

It’s affected game quality, too, says Roberts. Fewer refs means less eyes on plays, which means calls are missed. Now, officials are so scarce that the Association has to send refs to games they’re not ready for.

“You know, we’ve always prided ourselves here in our association of making sure that we had appropriately qualified officials to cover the games,” Roberts said. “Nobody out on a game that shouldn’t be out there. Well, that’s not the case right now.”

Roberts is running outreach and recruiting campaigns, hoping to usher a younger generation into an aging population of referees. As high schools head into a winter season, he worries about numbers going forward.

“My fear is, and other peoples’ fear is, that it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Roberts said. “And worse means cancelling more games.”

If you’re interested in becoming a referee, you can apply and find more information at

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