Help Wanted

Like many leagues around the country, the MIL is in desperate need of officials

Field umpire Jaime Perez talks to Maui High School’s Mikito Barkman in between pitches during a Maui Interscholastic League game in April. The MIL is experiencing a “critical low” of officials in all sports, and the league is attempting to address the problem with the inaugural Officials and Coaches Symposium at the Baldwin lecture hall on Saturday. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photos

When it came to finding out what he wanted to do in life, John Turzer got pointed in the right direction when he was only a 10-year-old kid in north Philadelphia.

“The gentleman that lived across from me was a high school and college Division I basketball official and he used to take me to games,” Turzer recalled. “I went to high school games with him, I went to college games with him throughout the Philadelphia area and I got the bug.”

The bulk of Turzer’s officiating career didn’t start until he called games at the intramural level at Penn State. After he graduated college, getting a full-time job hampered the amount of time Turzer was able to officiate. But in his 30s, he officiated youth games on the weekend in Irvine, Calif.

After starting his own business, Turzer was able to pursue officiating full-time and — following a move to the Valley Isle in 2005 — helped form the Maui Association of Hawaii Basketball Officials.

Turzer is a three-sport official, calling games for high school basketball, baseball and football.

Home plate umpire Paul Silva talks to a Maui High coach in between innings during a game in April.

Now at 69 years old, and with almost 30 years of officiating under his belt, he is concerned with the shortage of officials, a problem occurring all around the nation.

As the lead basketball officials liaison with Maui Interscholastic League coaches and administrators, Turzer dealt with a lack of referees last season as five top officials, including himself, ended up sidelined due to injury or sickness — that left the number of available refs at 25 percent less than what he started the season with.

“We usually have about 20-something referees at the start (of the season),” Turzer said, adding that the ideal number of basketball officials working during the season would be 30 to 35. “And when that number gets lower, then that really thins out the list of available referees.”

Along with physical limitations or injuries that push some away from returning or becoming a referee, national studies have shown that officials are also being driven away due to verbal abuse from some coaches, fans and players.

According to an article by USA Today, the shortage is also linked to a drastic shift in time constraints on young men and women who used to be interested in the avocation. On average, only two of 10 officials return for their third year of officiating, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

“Their growth as an official depends primarily on the effort they put into studying rules and video, and then demonstrating this on the court,” Turzer said. “It normally takes three to four years to move up, as we say.”

He believes that not only does the referee pipeline need to be filled, it needs a boost of younger officials.

“What we’d really like to do is get some of the kids and former players involved,” Turzer said. “If we could get some high school kids, that would be great. We know coaches sometimes have practice and it’d be tough for the kids to get away. But if we were able to get former players, that’d be great.”

Citing a “critical low” of officials in all sports, MIL executive director Joe Balangitao will be hosting the inaugural Officials and Coaches Symposium at the Baldwin High School lecture hall on Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m.

The goal of the conference will be to discuss and recruit officials and coaches to officiate sports at the high school level.

“It’s not just the MIL, it’s all leagues across the state — they’re having problems with getting and recruiting officials,” Balangitao said. “Some older officials are retiring and they’re not getting any younger officials or younger people stepping up wanting to be officials.”

In an email sent to MIL athletic directors earlier this month, Balangitao asked each school to nominate one person who graduated this year who might be a candidate to become an official.

Judge Joe Cardoza, a former football official with more than 40 years of experience, will be a guest speaker at the event.

Balangitao hopes that the symposium — open to anyone who is interested in becoming an official, regardless of experience — will help find people that are interested in multiple sports.

“That would help us reduce the number in officials needed, if people become officials for multiple sports,” Balangitao said.

Jordan Helle, a 28-year-old former Baldwin quarterback who is an MIL basketball official, believes there is a younger audience that could be candidates to help fill the shortage of referees.

“From the outside looking in, it looks like it’s a lot of trying to find the guy off the street to come in and help out,” said Helle, who works in sports radio and television. “But we have such a big network of youth sports here on the island with the youth soccer leagues and the youth baseball leagues and things like that. I think it’s kind of an untapped market because I think there are guys out there that are great candidates to officiate sports. You can really try and get those guys.”

Turzer and Helle were in agreement that having the ability to brush off criticism is key for potential officials.

“That’s what scared people off or turns people off,” Helle said. “Truth be told, it’s really not that bad. But you know, the handful of rough experiences are the ones that stick out in people’s minds, it’s not necessarily that status quo, that isn’t too bad. I think you got to have somewhat of a thick skin when you get into it and you got to also be able to laugh at yourself a little bit because not everybody is perfect, and we’re going to screw up a little bit.”

While it isn’t an easy job, officiating has its benefits, Helle says.

“It’s a nice way to give back to the community, because we are so desperately in need of officials,” he said. “It’s also great for if you want to be a coach, but don’t quite have the amount of time there. Officiating doesn’t take quite the time commitment, you’re only showing up to officiate a game once or twice a week and it’s also a great way to stay involved and stay physically fit.”

* Matthew Simon is at msimon@mauinews.com.

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