Four Questions with GHSA assistant executive director Ernie Yarbrough

Today's interviewee is Ernie Yarbrough, assistant executive director of the Georgia High School Association. Yarbrough oversees the officiating department for all GHSA sports, assists in the administration of many championship events and often represents the GHSA at state, regional and national sports-related conferences.

Ernie Yarbrough, GHSA assistant executive director 

1. What are the greatest changes or trends in regard to officiating you've seen since taking your position? "I am beginning my 19th year in the office, and the biggest trend I have seen during that time is a greater emphasis on a statewide effort to place a higher value on the contributions that contest officials make at the high school level. For decades, officials were viewed by many as a 'necessary evil,' but now they are recognized to be a critical part of competitive activities. This value is reflective in the game fees that high school officials now earn and deserve versus the pennies they once earned." 

2. What is being done at the GHSA level to recruit and retain officials, and do you foresee the officials shortages in Georgia getting worse? "First, the issue of a potential shortage of officials is not based in current GHSA registration numbers. The concern to me is that a high percentage of our veteran officials in all sports are nearing the age when they will retire. So, the challenge is to recruit new officials who will be able to step in when that time occurs. The GHSA and the NFHS both have national-, regional- and state-level recruiting programs. The NFHS started a program two years ago called 'Become an Official,' and we have been near the top of the chart on the number of individuals who have entered the program. Last year, we started a statewide program called 'Playing on Another Team' through which we have targeted former athletes, first responders and active and retired military personnel to become high school officials. The program is also producing good numbers for us. This school year, we have activated a recruiting program at our member schools who schedule a 'Career Day' that we have a representative attend. The key to recruiting contest officials is getting to them early and showing them the benefits of officiating." 

3. Do you think that things like instant replay and social media scrutiny are a detriment to finding, securing and retaining officials? "Like many aspects of our current culture, social media has created a major problem for officials. It's one thing to be ridiculed at a game by hecklers, but now the criticism and ridicule is aired on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other platforms. I wonder how a businessman or woman would feel if a mistake they made at their job was posted for everyone to see. Our officials are not [full-time] professionals, yet they are publicly criticized as harshly, often more harshly, as professional officials who earn an annual six-figure salary for working 'a game.' During a recent survey I conducted for a presentation at the NFHS Summer Meeting, the No. 1 thing having an adverse effect on the retention of high school officials was 'safety and sportsmanship.'" 

4. What innovative items are on the horizon at the state and national levels that may better recognize and train officials in the future? "The GHSA is recognized as having one of the best officials development and training programs in the country, and we will continue to explore more methods through which to enhance the quality of officiating at GHSA-sanctioned events. Last year, we started a program to recognize the value of individuals who make a commitment to officiating at the high school level. We recognize individuals who work three sports each year with the 'Triple Crown Award,' four sports with the 'Grand Slam Award,' and five or more with the 'Five-Star Award.' The GHSA executive committee recently approved a substantial game fee increase that places Georgia at or above the other states in Section III and across the country. But, again, while the game fees are important, if we are not able to curtail the poor sportsmanship at games and public criticism, we will struggle to recruit new officials and retain our valued veteran high school contest officials." 

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