‘There are a lot of moving parts’

James Frey, Gold Coast Officials Association

Credit: Becky Stein

Credit: Becky Stein

Each week, five high school coaches will discuss one issue that affects Georgia high school sports.Last week: Transfers

At Issue: The relationship between the Georgia High School Football Association and the various officials organizations across the state has never been perfect. Because of countless moving parts and an increase in the number of schools and games needed to be called, a state of the union for high school officiating becomes hard to provide. Viewpoints offer inconsistencies and, at times, contradicting information. Perhaps it's the nature of the beast. And it is a big beast. The almost 400 schools playing multiple sports in the state are served by more than 150 officials associations — more than 20 for football alone — representing thousands of referees. There are bound to be disagreements.

So what are the main issues affecting the men and women who call high school sports?

The Skinny: James Frey has been involved in officiating with the GHSA for 31 seasons and is the executive assigning director for the Gold Coast Officials Association, which handles basketball and football officials in the coastal areas of the state.

Throughout his career as an official, he has seen first-hand how the governing body of high school sports handles officiating and how things have changed through the years with the games getting faster, social media becoming louder and officials' jobs turning into a fish bowl existence, where everyone is on the outside looking in.

Frey said his biggest concern is recruiting and retaining good young officials. But there are obstacles. Some are concerned with cost, others, well they just don’t want to put in the time.

So what’s working and what isn’t?

Frey: "Well, this will be my 31st year involved in officiating in the GHSA. I think it is a matter of several different issues. There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to officiating or our ability or inability to attract newer younger folks. A lot of people can point fingers at a group of people, but I do not think that's fair. I think there is probably some blame to go around. I think training officials is extremely important. I think the GHSA does its best to try to make it uniform across the board, statewide. It's not.

“I think local associations must take that upon themselves to do a better job across the board. But I think as far as camps and things like that go, with the GHSA, it’s hard to attract younger and newer officials when they have to go to a varsity camp every year and pay the fee upfront. When you are just getting started as an official, that’s difficult for them to swallow.

“The flip side of that is a lot of these officials just got done playing the game and they think because they played — whether they were a player in college or high school — they feel they should automatically be on a varsity crew. I think the biggest mistake people make is putting people who are not ready on the field. They have a bad experience and they do not come back. But I think its two-fold. I think the GHSA must look at the camp structure — mandatory camps — and the amount of money it costs to officiate. I think it’s a deterrent for some of your younger officials. and I think its costing us some quality veteran officials who may have been around for three or four more years but they go ahead and turn it in and just don’t worry about officiating anymore. I think that’s part of it.

“And the other part of it is that the younger officials don’t want to do the time. When I started officiating, I had two years of nothing but sub-varsity games and had a year of just running a clock. So I had three years before I touched a varsity field. You would not keep an official these days doing that. But that was standard practice back then. Now, it is ‘put me out there, I can do it,’ and when it does not happen at their pace, they just move on and do not come back or find other hobbies. If you do not absolutely love officiating, you are not going to stick with it and will not do it for an extended period.

“It’s a little varied depending on where you are in the state. If you are in one of the Atlanta associates, you could have it a little bit better because there's so many high schools in a condensed area. So you're you could work one of probably 15 or 20 schools, a lot of times within a 15-minute ride or what should be a 15-minute ride minus traffic. In South Georgia if you are going to work 15 or 20 schools you would have to drive an hour-and-a-half or two hours. So you do have the travel expenses, and listen, for what we get paid, if you took the time it takes to train, to go to camps, to travel to games, all the preparation from meetings that we go through, the tests, the clinics, all the stuff we do, and factored all that stuff into pay, it is minuscule. But there is only so much you can do. Schools cannot afford to pay but so much money, but at the end of the day it has got to be a figure that makes it worthwhile for these for these officials. And you hear officials saying all the time, 'Well, I don't do it for the money?’ Well, sure you do. If they said they were not paying officials anymore, no one would be there.

“So at the end of the day, you do it as a side job or whatever. But at the end of the day, is it worth the cost of your equipment, your travel, your hours in preparation? People do not realize we show up an hour-and-a-half before a game, we are usually there 45 minutes after. A Georgia high school football game lasts about two-and-a-half hours. So now you have got that, and it’s not even including travel time. So now you have got five, six or seven hours tied up in the game for 100 bucks. That is not including the time you spent prepping for the game, in your study stuff, your camps, your clinic. It all adds up. And I think when people young folks get involved in it, and they realize the dedication and the time it takes for what they make, it is a deterrent.”

AT ISSUE: High school officiating

• Ernie Yarbrough, GHSA assistant executive director
• Bill Palmer, Northeast Georgia official 
• James Frey, Gold Coast Officials Association
• James Hogan, International City Football Officials Association
• Freddie Stewart, Middle Georgia Football Officials Association
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