Numbers of officials declining

Andy Colbert

A few odds and ends today:

-In recent Sauk Valley News article, it was mentioned that the number of high-school officials has declined from 13,694 in 2013 to 9,702 this year, a loss of almost 4,000 in that time period. What is frustrating is that there appears to be no clear-cut solution.

Many things have been tried. The IHSA has actively promoted a sportsmanship campaign, created licensing waivers and amped up recruiting. Pay rates have been increased.

It’s helped a little, but there are still not enough younger officials coming in to replace an older group that is slowly transitioning out. We should be thankful that the diehards continue working past their physical peak.

The two sports with the most scrutiny for an official are football and basketball. It’s no surprise that those two sports have lost the most officials.

Fans have always given refs the business, but today’s society is less civilized than before and heaps undue abuse on these men and women.

I recall my father refereeing many a basketball and baseball game. When I was a teenager, he wanted me to join him as a partner.

With some reluctance, I did a junior high girls basketball game with him. I don’t recall any verbal abuse, but the attention level needed to properly perform was beyond me. So, it was one-and-done.

Bottom line – officiating is tougher than one would think. It can be quite rewarding, too. Why else would people continue to do it for decades?

Officiating numbers might be going down, but girls wrestling is on the rise. According to figures from the Illinois Coaches and Officials Association, participation is up 75 percent.

Last year was the first time the IHSA facilitated a state tournament, with nearly all corners of the state represented. In looking at sectional assignments, Oregon appears to be the only program in Ogle County that has female wrestlers.

Have you caught pickleball fever yet?

One of the fastest-growing sports in the country; pickleball was invented in the 1960s by a father whose children were bored. Combining an old badminton court, a perforated plastic ball and ping-pong paddles, an offshoot of tennis was born.

It took a while, but pickleball has really taken off the last few years. People of all ages enjoy it, as I discovered while visiting with Jim McPherson of Oregon, the reigning park district champion.

Jim’s an older guy like me, demonstrating one doesn’t necessarily have to be a youthful to excel at pickleball.

Oregon gets a lot of play with people from other towns utilizing both indoor and outdoor courts. Pickleball is a lot more user friendly than tennis and has been taking over those same courts.

Recreationally, tennis peaked in the 1970s and has never regained its hold on the masses, though it still retains status at a professional level.

With holiday tournaments over, high school basketball kicks into high gear with conference play. It’s nice for a team to win their conference, but it lacks the appeal of years ago.

Sometimes teams are more wrapped up with upcoming shootouts or MLK tourneys, events that didn’t exist in the past. Additionally, squads are more concerned with preparing for the post season rather than obsessing on league games.

With the NFL and bowl games in full swing, New Year’s weekend was a cornucopia of football watching, including some incredible finishes on the college side mixed in with a miserable performance by the Chicago Bears. Like most every football fan, I eagerly anticipated Monday Night ball between Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills as the encore.

Talk about being blindsided about what transpired on the field with the medical emergency to Bills player Damar Hamlin.

People on television and radio were at loss as to what to say. Pre-game and in-game analysis is off the charts in regard to coverage, but when it comes to real-life situations, we often don’t know how to respond.

That’s not a criticism, just an observation of how much importance we place on football compared to more important things.

As medical personnel feverishly attended to Damar Hamlin, us old timers couldn’t help but think about a similar incident in 1971 when receiver Chuck Hughes of Detroit died from a heart attack suffered in the final part of a Bears game. One major difference between then and now was that play continued after Hughes was taken off the field.

Andy Colbert is a longtime Ogle County resident with years of experience covering sports and more for multiple area publications.

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