Brandon-Evansville principal and activities director Nate Meissner started officiating sporting events in 2003, fresh out of high school. But he said new graduates today aren’t doing the same.
“There’s no doubt about it: We are in an officiating crunch,” he said. “People could argue and give their opinions all day long on why. ...I think it’s a generational thing. People aren’t growing up with it enough or they’re finding other things to do when they come out of school. They don’t have that passion.”
Meissner is in his first year as the Chargers’ AD, but he has a lengthy officiating resume to go along with it. He’s reffed football, volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball throughout the years and has experience at both the high school and Division II levels in college. He also has a leadership role within the Runestone Officials Association out of Glenwood.
But because he’s established such deep roots, Meissner has also witnessed the dwindling numbers of referees in the past several years.
“As an official, I started seeing the pinch probably five, eight years ago. Somewhere in that ballpark,” he said. “We’re just not getting the youth in it. The young kids, the kids coming out of college or the kids in the college age aren’t getting into officiating.”
At the Aug. 20 Brandon-Evansville school board meeting, Meissner brought up the difficulties he’s had in finding available referees to schedule for games. Statewide, the number of officials in Minnesota has decreased by over 500 in the past seven years.
Over the last decade, the peak came in the 2010-11 season, when the Minnesota State High School League had 8,847 registered officials. In 2017-18, the count was at 8,334 -- a 5.8 percent decrease.
However, the shortage hasn’t affected every school in the area.
“For the most part, especially for varsity, it’s been relatively easy to find officials,” said Robert Brakke, the assistant principal for activities at AAHS. “There are certain times when it’s a little tougher, but for the most part, people want to come to Alex. … You think of the competition, but the location, too. People want (to come).”
Nevertheless, Brakke is still aware of the statewide shortage. He believes officials often opt out because of the flak sent out from the stands.
“They don’t want to take the heat from fans,” he said. “That’s the No. 1 reason, no doubt about it, from keeping people from coming in or losing people after just a couple years. It’s a world where we question everything. It gets wearing over the course of a whole game where everything you do is questioned.”
Opinions and experiences differ, which has helped stir up more discussion regarding the issue. Meissner sees the problem stemming from another source.
“I don’t think it’s a parent thing. Coaches don’t act any different now. They’re not harder on us now, as a high school official, than they were when I started,” he said. “I don’t think it’s that we’re getting yelled at too much.”
Former Brainerd boys basketball coach Scott Stanfield made big headlines in January when he announced his resignation because of parental hostility. However, Meissner doesn’t believe it’s a direct translation into the officiating world.
“Coaches deal with parents in a whole different magnitude,” he said. “As an official, I deal with a parent for two hours, and then I get to go home. A coach has to deal with them for the season.”
Lonnie Marcyes, an official from Browerville who was also the referee during Brandon-Evansville’s football game against Hillcrest Lutheran Academy on Sept. 7, agreed that hostile fans typically aren’t a major problem for him.
“(Some verbal abuse) has happened, but it’s easy enough to just walk away,” said Marcyes, a 10-year officiating veteran. “Everyone’s got their opinion on it. It probably helps that I’m a deputy sheriff for my regular job, so I’m used to dealing with people who aren’t a real big fan of me sometimes. I can handle the people yelling about a bad call, if that’s their opinion.”
Instead, Meissner believes solving the shortage riddle needs to be looked at from another angle.
“I don’t think people have quit because we’re getting yelled at too much. I don’t think they’ve quit. We’re just not getting new ones,” he said. “The young kids aren’t getting into officiating. I started when I was 18 years old. I graduated, my dad was the assignor for the association in this area, so that’s what I did. And I did everything.”
Fewer and fewer are following Meissner’s path. But for those like Marcyes, who have stayed true to their zebra stripes, it’s still a worthwhile endeavor.
“I used to play in high school and college. It’s a way to stay in the game,” he said. “You get to see some great athletes. You get to see some teammates that obviously support each other. It’s fun to be part of that.”