Shortage of basketball referees ahead of school season

LUBBOCK, Texas — Mike Applegate loved watching and playing basketball growing up. As he got older, he was looking for a way to give back. His first thought was to become a referee.

Flash forward 29 years, and he still referees games across the Southern Plains, and is the current president of the Lubbock Basketball Officials Chapter (LBOC).

“It’s the best way to stay close to the game,” Applegate said. “I love being on the pitch. When I was playing there was a lot of activity on the pitch, and as an official you are part of the game.”

The kickoff of the high school basketball season is only a few weeks away. Unfortunately, there is a problem on the ground. They don’t have enough officials.

Applegate said COVID-19 certainly had an impact on lower benchmarks.

“With COVID, we’ve had about a 15% drop from our normal numbers,” Applegate said. “People were worried about their health.”

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, nearly 50,000 umpires have called it since the 2018-19 school year — the last full school year unaffected by the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, the LBOC had 225 umpires. Now they are sitting at 190 and looking for at least 20 more.

Daylan Flowers said many fear parents and aggressive fans. With nearly a decade of officiating under his belt, he has learned to disconnect from the crowd.

“I’ve been to the period clinic, studied, called this game for several years, I know exactly what I’m doing,” said Flowers, a division rep for LBOC. “I just try to keep it balanced and take the noise out and call the game the way it should be.”

Applegate said the area high school administration would step in if needed, but they usually don’t have a problem.

“There’s been such a backlash of concerns from people under attack, negativity and coaches, and the same with fans,” Applegate said. “One of the things that’s really lucky for us here in West Texas is that we don’t have those kinds of issues.”

Flowers hopes to share his love for officiating with others.

“It’s a great opportunity to make some extra money, but also to be able to help out the community, stay fit and have fun with something they would probably like to do,” Flowers said.

Want to become a civil servant? Visit the LBOC website to learn more.