Nationwide referee shortage causes concerns ahead of fall sports leagues starting

Summer’s still kicking, but fall is on the mind. With that, school and recreational sports leagues are on the horizon, but one of the game's most critical elements need for sports is facing a crisis right now.

Across the country, the National Association of Sports Officials reports that it is about 25 percent short on referees.

READ MORE: Youth hockey official shortage could partly be blamed on parents

There are several factors impacting the shortage, but as FOX 5's David Kaplan reports, one of the major reasons is that referees are enduring more and more verbal abuse.

"I am exasperated, because things haven’t improved, they’ve gotten worse. And it’s just a matter of the parents/fans coming to grips with the fact that you’re going to get some calls you don’t like," says Barry Mano, Founder and President of the National Association of Sports Officials. "With this bad behavior, men and women are saying why do I want to do this? Why do I want to put myself into that environment along with the fact, the sad fact, that referees are being trashed, unmercifully in social media, and by name, for things that they didn’t do wrong."

FOX 5 spoke to a teenager, who is currently a soccer referee, that says the verbal abuse has become a constant.

"The game is very competitive. The kids want to win and the parents want to win, and every single decision counts, every single decision can impact the outcome of the game and one simple mistake. We’re going to make mistakes because we’re human. But one simple mistake can cause an outburst. Chaos in the game," says Andy Cruz. "Over the years I’ve just gotten used to it. Point is, if you go out there and you act like you’re scared and you care about what other people say around you, it’s going to impact your performance by a lot. You have to take a stance, and be firm and decisive, and you have to be able to make sure you know what you’re doing."

READ MORE: Montgomery County is expanding popular youth sports programs for girls

Another problem is that older referees did not return after the pandemic, and the pipeline for new referees isn't large enough for the growing demand.

In Maryland, officials say the state is about 2,000 referees short.

"Across the state of Maryland, we need 2,000 people to sign up and take the referee class.  So it’s not a small number," said Matt Libber, the Executive Director of the Maryland Soccerplex "This facility alone on a Saturday we’re going to have 230 games. That’s a lot of referees you need to have here. And we can stack the games, they can do multiple games. But that’s still a lot of people that we have to have employed and know what they’re doing and do it right and do it safely."

READ MORE: Manassas Park High School cancels football season

Officials say while the situation is bad, it has not caused for widespread league cancellations yet.