Soccer referee Costa Nederjkovic started officiating youth games a few years ago to make some extra money, but he quickly developed a passion for it. Now, as an 18-year-old senior at Portland High School, he hopes to continue refereeing in college. With the decline in match officials over recent years, youth sports leagues and traveling teams are struggling to find enough referees and officials to run their games.
To address this issue, Peter Levasseur, director of instruction for the Maine Football Referees Association, runs clinics across the state to attract and train future football referees, including teenagers like Nederjkovic. This year’s class helped increase the number of registered youth soccer officials in Maine to 600, an increase of 100 from 2022, and eight more clinics are planned for this summer in various areas across the state.
Levasseur said that the group is also trying to recruit college students who played soccer in high school and college to serve as officials for junior high and high school games. While the compensation for officials ranges from $30 to $60 per game, officials for national games will be paid $87.50 per game starting this fall.
However, finding officials is not just a problem in Maine. Across the country, youth sports are grappling with this issue. The National Federation of High School Associations reported a 9% decrease in the number of high school officials from the 2018-19 school year to the 2021-22 school year. One of the reasons many people do not join or stay involved in officiating is the verbal abuse from spectators, mostly parents.
To combat abusive behavior, some states have introduced legislation to impose fines for verbal abuse of officials or attendees at sporting events. The Little League in Deptford Township, New Jersey, even enacted a new rule that fans who verbally abuse an umpire must officiate three games before being allowed back as spectators. Despite these challenges, teenagers like Nederjkovic and Portland High School senior Sadie Armstrong are entering the world of officiating to give back to their sports and communities.