MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In high school sports, the recruiting pitches are normally reserved for the athletes.

But the Minnesota State High School League is launching one towards referees.

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“Not only do we seem to never have enough, but we’ve also noticed that the officials are getting older,” MSHSL associate director Kevin Merkle said.

According to the league’s research, the biggest cause of the problem is issues with sportsmanship.

“We lose some people before they ever start,” Merkle said. “They see how officials are treated, they go, ‘Why do I want to get involved with that?’ And other people get tired of it too, and it’s not really sportsmanship issues with the participants. I think people can deal with that. It’s the coaches and the fans.”

WCCO highlighted some of that abuse in a story one year ago.

“He came running out of the dugout.”
“He came screaming onto the court.”
“He came up and chest bumped me.”
“They were telling me they were going to see me in the parking lot after.”
“He goes, ‘I’m going to my trunk and I’m going to get my gun.'”

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When you hear the stories, it’s easy to see why there’s a shortage of officials.

“‘I’ve already given up time with my family, I’ve traveled an hour, an hour and a half, I’m not getting paid all that much – and now I’m going to get yelled at for the next two hours?'” Merkle said. “Fortunately, those really bad situations are few and far between. There’s a lot of great situations where officials come off the floor feeling, ‘Hey, great, that was a fun night.’ They enjoy working with the kids, and they enjoy giving back, so there’s a lot of positives. [For] a lot of people, it’s a great way to stay involved, it’s a great way to stay in shape. They can make a few extra dollars.”

And the league, with its new program, is adding to that list of positives – starting by lowering fees.

“A brand-new official, it’s only $15 to register. We’ve also built in incentives for current officials and also for our schools if they recruit an official, there’s certain incentives they can earn,” Merkle said.

The league hopes that makes an impact, but it also know if coaches and parents don’t improve their behavior, this problem might never be solved.

“If we run good people out, that just lowers the level of officiating we’re going to have. Then we end up with more that might be there for the wrong reasons, just to make a dollar or something like that. That’s not what we want,” Merkle said.

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Click here for information on how to become a referee.