The next time you want to tell an official what you think of their call, hold your tongue.

The verbal abuse by parents and fans from the youth level through high school has officials from every sport rethinking their decision to pick up a whistle or step behind the plate.

In truth, basketball officials make between $60-$70 a game. In the end, the abuse isn’t worth the money.

With state basketball tournaments being played this week in Oregon and Washington, it’s a good time to keep your thoughts in check, and your comments contained to positive words for your favorite team.

Think this is not an issue? Check again.

This week, the Mid-Columbia Conference moved freshman baseball games to Tuesdays and Fridays at the same time, but on opposite fields, as the varsity games. This was done because there is a lack of baseball umpires to work every day of the week.

In Oregon, district wrestling tournaments for 2A/1A, 3A and 6A are held two weeks before state, while the 4A and 5A are the week before state. This is simply because there are not enough wrestling officials in the state to cover all of the tournaments in one weekend.

A shortage of officials is nothing new in Washington, Oregon or nationwide.

From 2009-19, the OSAA saw a decline in officials. This year, there has been a slight uptick in people putting on the stripes, mostly in basketball.

In Washington, things are no better.

The Washington Officials Association (WOA), which recruits, trains and assigns officials for games sanctioned by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), has lost more than 1,500 members over the past 10 years, according to research done by the Seattle Times.

The athletes who suffer the most from this are the young ones just learning the game. Freshman and junior varsity games could be canceled for lack of officials. Youth tournaments could see a cap put on the number of teams that can participate for the same reason.

Long-time referees like George Gillette of Milton-Freewater, who has spent the better part of 50 years calling basketball, football and baseball games in Oregon, are becoming as rare as dinosaurs.

Gillette, who turns 70 next month, is one of the most respected officials in Oregon. This week, he is evaluating officials at the 2A state tournament in Pendleton.

As commissioner of the Blue Mountain Conference Basketball Officials Association, Gillette said most of the turnover in his group is because of health-related issues as one ages. He admitted that is not the case in other associations.

The median age of the basketball officials in the BMC is 58 years old, though there is one who is 70 years young. Sooner or later, the body simply wears out.

One of the issues, Gillette said of the official shortage, is when five officials retire, there is only one new guy coming in. If the new guy can get past three years, you have a better chance of keeping them. After five years, they are pretty much hooked.

Gillette has pulled back from the number of basketball games he works, but said a couple of months ago he worked the Nixyaawii girls and boys varsity games, and then headed down the road to Athena and did the same thing at Weston-McEwen — with a two-hour break. All of this because there was no one else to step in.

Gillette was reffing basketball games when I was in high school, and he was one of my dad’s favorite officials during his 20-year coaching career at Helix.

“When we went to Helix, it was always interesting,” Gillette said. “And entertaining. If you don’t enjoying doing your work, you won’t last long. If you’ve done a decent job along the years, you are immune to the abuse.”

Not all officials are as thick-skinned as Gillette, nor should they have to be.


Annie Fowler is a sports reporter with the East Oregonian.


Annie Fowler is a sports reporter with the East Oregonian.

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