John F. Russell: Referees need to keep the game alive |

John F. Russell: Referees need to keep the game alive

— The problem is easy to see, but finding a solution has presented a problem for the Steamboat Springs Youth Soccer Association and many other youth sports associations across the state.

Imagine the fields at Emerald Park on any given Saturday in the spring and fall and the hundreds of children playing the game of soccer. Now, imagine those same fields still and empty. No screams, no cheers and none of the excitement that comes from watching our children play a game they truly love.

I can’t image the second scenario becoming a reality, but it’s the kind of situation that keeps Hobey Early, technical director for the Steamboat Springs Youth Soccer Association, awake at night.

The problem doesn’t come from not having enough children interested in playing the game — no, this problem stems from the fact that the association is struggling to find enough qualified adults willing to come out and referee the games. This fall, the problem became more than evident, with games having to be rescheduled and games using parent volunteers as line judges. Early is the first to acknowledge the situation is not ideal, and finding a solution is difficult.

Early said the problem stems from many factors, including a number of local referees who have retired the past couple of seasons after years of officiating games in Steamboat Springs. Early said the handful of veteran referees worked a tremendous number of games and took the pressure off. Now that their children have stopped playing the games, they are ready to move on, leaving a huge hole in the pool of referees.

Early said the association made a call this spring and had a good turnout of new referees, but at this point, that effort has not been enough to fill the hole left by those that have left. This means a few referees are working as many as three games on any given weekend and, in some cases, more.

Either way, the news is bad for local players. To play official league games, the required number of certified referees must be on the field to ensure the game is fair, and more importantly, safe .

But Early and many other associations are fighting an uphill battle. Let’s face it: In today’s hustle and bustle world, it’s hard to find time to take certification clinics, to referee games and to be away from family members.

Many, myself included, would love nothing more than to give a few hours on the weekend to make sure children can play the game they love. If I only had a few hours to spend, but for me, the weekends are filled with all the things I couldn’t get to during the week. By the time I have my house cleaned and the laundry done, it’s time to go back to work Monday. Life if busy, and sometimes, we get so caught up in what it takes to get through each day we lose sight of the bigger picture — you know, actually living life.

Not to mention, the idea of refereeing youth sporting events is intimidating to some who might otherwise step to the plate. You have to have a thick skin to find it rewarding.

After all, who wants to give up their weekend to face the possibility of being yelled at when you give the ball to the wrong team on an out-of-bounds call or miss an off-sides call that turns the game. I’ve volunteered ‚ more than once — and I’ll admit it’s not as easy as it looks. Plus, no matter what call you make, at least 50 percent of the people at the game are going to disagree with you.

The problem, of course, and the challenges youth associations face, are easy to see. The days when adults were able to give back, were able to support youth sporting events in their free time and were able to bring a smile to a child’s face by making the game they love a reality have become more difficult to come by. In most cases, there simply isn’t enough time in the day.

But this hasn’t stopped Early or the Steamboat Springs Youth Soccer Association from doing everything possible to ensure our playing fields never sit empty. For the first time in recent memory, the association is offering a second referee clinic this fall, with the hope of growing its pool and taking the pressure off the referees we have.

That clinic will take place Nov. 15 at Library Hall. Participants will have to pay between $80 and $100 for the course, but will be reimbursed if they work at least five games in the subsequent season. Referees working at least five games will also have their work deposit check waived for one child the following season.

Children are also welcome and encouraged to take the course. However, state rules mandate the child must be at least 14 and accompanied by a parent for the clinic. The child can also have a parent or adult mentor (who must be a certified referee) when they referee until they are 14.

The problem of finding referees for youth sports is a real one. The cost of what will happen if we don’t have them — well, it’s simply too high to imagine.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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