Officially keeping up
By: Grant Lucas
Dan Badders reflects on how simple things used to be. How if a team wanted to join the Oregon High School Lacrosse Association it was “no problem. Boom.” Basically, the Beaverton-based OHSLA commissioner says, the process followed only a few steps: If you fielded a complete team, if you had a schedule booked, you were in the league.
But with youth lacrosse growing in popularity throughout the state, as varsity and junior varsity teams continue to sprout up — from just 29 varsity teams statewide 10 years ago to 51 this season (plus another 61 JV teams) — the OHSLA has struggled to keep pace. In recent seasons, the league, now in its 20th year, and the Oregon Lacrosse Officials Association, now in its 10th, have made great strides in recruiting individuals to become certified officials.
Yet while Badders says the two organizations are no longer in “a crisis” with a lack of referees as they have been at times over the years — since 2007, when Central Oregon’s first teams joined the OHSLA, the number of certified officials has grown from 54 to 81 — the commissioner does not deny that the issue still exists today.
Especially in Central Oregon.
“The High Desert area has just EXPLODED in the number of teams that are now there,” Badders says. He adds: “We have reached a point … where we don’t have enough officials.”
Seven years ago, Bend High, Summit, Redmond and Sisters were all preparing to field their first varsity lacrosse teams. Four teams in Central Oregon, yet there was only one certified official in the area. Since then, Mountain View has joined the OHSLA. Ridgeview, which is playing a JV schedule this season, is also getting into the mix.
The league’s growth, while inspiring, is becoming overwhelming to the league itself. So many varsity teams (51 statewide) playing full schedules, each game requiring three-man officiating crews, yet there are so few officials (81) to go around.
That is why, Badders says, the OHSLA board of directors will meet with the OLOA to set up parameters, such as when teams can schedule games.
“Things that we’ve never formally required before, we’re now at that point,” says Badders, who notes that, to become a league member, Ridgeview was required to provide three names of locals who would train to become officials. “We’re trying to manage the games with the number of officials we have.”
Seven years ago, only one certified OLOA official resided in Central Oregon. That number has since grown to nine full-time officials and another part-timer. Tom Johnson of the OLOA says the situation is improving, but at nowhere near the pace of lacrosse growth in Bend and the surrounding areas.
“It’s bursting at the seams,” says Johnson, an eight-year lacrosse official who assigns officials to games in the High Desert League, which includes all five Central Oregon boys teams. “I think some people are timid because they don’t understand it (lacrosse). The ones who are getting involved are going, ‘Wow, this is a great game.’ … I think it’s just the action (of lacrosse). I mean, there is always something going on. That’s why I love to officiate it.
A lack of officials is not a problem only in boys lacrosse.
“We definitely have a shortage,” says Polly Purcell, co-coach of Central Oregon Lacrosse, one of two Central Oregon teams in the 39-team Oregon Girls Lacrosse Association. “We are trying desperately to find people who can go to that training. We’d love to get 10 referees from this area to get trained and build off that base right there. That’s about all we can do.”
Because lacrosse is a club sport at Oregon high schools, teams pay their own expenses, including officials. During the past seven years, because of a lack of referees in the area, officials from the Willamette Valley have traveled to Central Oregon to work boys games. And with them has come another expense: officials’ travel.
Badders makes it clear that because the boys and girls rules are “so different,” there are two separate officials organizations: the OLOA for the boys and the Oregon Women’s Lacrosse Umpires Association for the girls. Because of the two different groups, finding an official certified through both, according to Badders, is “almost impossible.”
“Because the two games are so different,” Badders says, “it’s not like, ‘Oh, we’ll borrow one from over here and he can officiate here’ or vice-versa.
“Even if there was commonality (among the rules for boys and girls), we’d be cannibalizing each other. We have to get more people to do this. The girls’ season is the same time as the boys’ season in high school, so it’s not like we can borrow guys from one season and carry him over here. It just doesn’t exist.”
Every so often this season, a Valley official will still trek to the High Desert. But now the number of officials has grown in Central Oregon. Now the OHSLA will require new teams to provide names of potential referees. And over at Sisters, Bill Rexford has several players training to become youth officials and, potentially, varsity referees.
“These kids love the sport,” says Rexford, the ninth-year Sisters boys lacrosse coach. “It’s a way to be involved. Talking with these guys who are doing the youth officiating, they say they’re getting a new perspective on the sport. … They (the players) really feel like, ‘Well we wouldn’t have the games if we didn’t have the officials.’”
Four current Sisters players — Josh Ward, Jens Stadeli, Lane Gladden and Porter Ford — took an online officiating class through U.S. Lacrosse, the national governing body of the sport. They went to a tournament and worked with varsity-certified officials to learn the ropes. By OHSLA rules, the four Sisters players can continue to officiate youth games while still in high school (and they do, according to Rexford). Once they graduate, if they would like to continue to officiate, they can be certified to work junior varsity and varsity games.
“I think it’s such a good time, and it’s a way to give back to the game,” Rexford says. “They’re going to help out at SALI (the Sisters Annual Lacrosse Invitational on May 16). … That gives us four more officials for those youth brackets. It’s going to take the pressure off the other refs, and they can focus on the more-competitive high school games and elite teams.”
Officiating lacrosse is a part-time job, Badders emphasizes. For most it is not about the money, not about the $46.92 an official can make each JV game or the $56.10 or $69.36 (depending on experience level) per varsity contest. “They all cash their paychecks,” Badders says, “but they’re doing it because they like doing it.”
“What happens on the field, it’s not do or die,” Rexford says, referring to officials. “It’s about longevity. It’s about sustainability. They’re going to make mistakes; I make mistakes. They’re a much-needed partner in what we’re trying to accomplish.”