Madison referee program fueling youth sports officials

You’ll look good in stripes!
Kids Need Opportunities at Warner (KNOW) includes a basketball referee apprenticeship program that targets youth between the ages of 14 and 21.
Published: Oct. 3, 2023 at 4:32 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A youth sports program in Madison is blowing the whistle on a shortage of referees.

Kids Need Opportunities at Warner (KNOW) provides a variety of services for youth and young adults, and the Basketball Referee Apprenticeship Program is working to get more teens involved in officiating.

This program, geared towards those between the ages of 14 and 21, is a way to ease the widespread shortage of officials.

“When I was coming up it was hard for me to find 2-4 games on a weekend, on a Saturday, just to ref,” started Zach Watson, Warner Park Facility Manager and referee program creator. “I can tell you today, a new official could go every weekend from November through august if they wanted to, working 12-15 games a day, the need is that great.”

Watson cited ageing referees to be fueling the shortage, coupled with the absence of a formal process to recruit youth. This program, he noted looks to be that fix.

“Do we want kids who are new officials refereeing a varsity contest? No,” Watson started. “We want to prepare to get to that level and you do that by getting games under your belt getting that experience.”

The Basketball Referee Apprenticeship Program at Warner Park Community Rec Center is working to give a clear path for teens to become youth sports officials.

The KNOW program at Warner Park Community Recreation Center includes events such as Teen Night, Family Fun Night, an Angler program, a 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament Series and open gym, which provide meaningful opportunities for youth to feel connected and engaged with the community.

Located on the northeast side of Madison, the WPCRC is a multi-purpose, public facility for community activities including recreational, educational and cultural programs and events.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the United States lost approximately 50,000 high school officials between the 2018-19 school year and February 2022. Closer to home, the WIAA is tracking a 1,000 referee loss as of August, compared to the same time in 2022.

Want to ref? Reach out to the Warner Park Community Recreation Center. Interested parties will get set up with an introductory interview. From there, kids and young adults will be given reading material, proper clothing and hands-on experience for a ‘graduation’ to game-play in eight weeks or fewer.

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