High school football referee shortages could threaten Friday night lights

So far, it does not appear any Northeast Florida school districts affected

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With Friday night lights only a few weeks away, some school districts around the state are scrambling with high school football schedules as they're facing a shortage of referees and officials.

In South Florida, multiple officiating associations threatened to strike and sit out over the issue of low pay. 

On Tuesday morning, FloridaHSFootball.com tweeted: "Yes, we are aware of the possibility of FHSAA football officials associations going on strike in several areas around the state over their pay rates. It's true that pay for officials is way behind those of other states. The impact this could have remains to be seen."

As the Florida High School Athletic Association, the entity in charge of setting the game rate for officials, works on a solution to get officials back on the fields, the greatest concern is how these boycotts will impact the student-athletes because if there are no officials, there are no games.

"I was kind of shocked. I understand there is a need for a pay increase, but there are coaches in need of pay increases, as well," said Shelton Crews, with the Florida Athletic Coaches Association. "But at the end of the day, our student-athletes ought to be first and then work backward from there."

Justin Harrison, associate executive director of athletics for the FHSAA, told News4Jax that the last pay raise for officials came six years ago. The increase was $5 per game. 

"Without officials, we don’t have athletics," Harrison said. "They are a vital role and we want to make sure they are aware that they are an important part and are equally important as everyone else is involved, as well."

He said the FHSAA wants to assure high school sports officials that it is working on making changes for the 2020-21 school year.

“We have a meeting set up on Aug. 26 with members of our Athletic Director Advisory Committee -- who are elected members across the state by their peers and also members of our Officials Advisory Committee, who are also elected by their peers -- to start meetings, to start these talks, to look at game rates, travel rates and administrative rates to see what we can do,” Harrison said.  

He said the goal is to announce the future plans sometime this fall. Those plans are expected to look five to 10 years down the line so officials and schools know what to expect. 

On Wednesday, an FHSAA spokesperson told News4Jax that there will be an increase in pay for all sports officials in the 2020-21 school year.

The spokesperson also addressed the current status of football officials:

"We have 25 officials associations in the state -- 22 of those are fully registered and ready for next week. The three associations who do not have enough officials registered are: East Coast, South Gulf and Treasure Coast (Treasure Coast is meeting Aug. 12 on this).

"These associations serve a total of 71 FHSAA member schools. In the state of Florida, we have 552 football teams fielding a team this fall. This means 87% of our schools have officials for this season. We believe in good faith the number will be 100%, but we have a plan in place shall the 71 schools not have enough available registered officials in those areas."

News4Jax contacted Northeast Florida school districts to see whether they're experiencing a shortage of officials or if football schedules have been affected. By late Tuesday afternoon, Clay County, Nassau County and St. Johns County school districts replied, saying they have not been affected and schedules are good to go. 

On Wednesday, the Bradford County School District said its schedule was not affected, but said it is aware of the situation and recognizes the shortage. Duval County Public Schools said it "is not experiencing a shortage of community members signing up to referee our athletic competitions."

The Baker County School District had not responded as of early Wednesday evening.

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