by John Unrein
High school athletic events and activities are an extension of the classroom. Student athletes experience the lessons of competition and sportsmanship that come with representing themselves, their teams, school, and community. Knowledge garnered through winning and losing and the preparation it takes to be successful as a participant are truths that stick with us throughout life.
Promoting that fair play exists in Missouri at the high school level are Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) officials. Men and women who give time to a sport they love and likely played during their teenage years. Nights and weekends away from home and families are typically the cost that comes with fostering rules and enforcing them.
Ken Holland is a Grain Valley resident and MSHSAA official. Holland started his career as a teacher and coach at Concordia High School in 1985. Subsequent stops as a high school principal at Wellington-Napoleon and Crest Ridge High School in Center View Missouri rounded out his tenure.
The retired Missouri public educator can be seen on softball fields and the basketball hardwood in our community. Holland has been officiating for the last six years since leaving education. His motivation for doing so has been the atmosphere of competition and getting to witness kids perform at a high level.
“As a basketball coach, I taught my girls to play physical and be willing to give up fouls. As a referee, I have to officiate completely different,” Holland said.
“I enjoy officiating and seeing people who work hard for kids by getting themselves in position (to make a call), work well in a three person team, are consistent, and communicate well with kids and coaches in a positive manner.”
Holland continued, “I love being part of a team and my team now is the MSHSAA officials I work with.”
Advice is not something that Holland is shy about sharing when asked what he would offer to those new to the job.
“Officiating is about willingness to grow, not quitting, and taking constructive criticism from those who are elders in the profession. You can read a rule book three times and feel prepared only to have something come up during a game that’s not in the book. You never forget those lessons or experiences,” Holland said.
Working games in the Kansas City suburban area has left Holland with some good stories to share. He paused momentarily to think of the best one to provide.
“I was at Lee’s Summit High School after the third quarter on the sideline during a timeout getting ready to have a team inbound the basketball. A cheerleader doing a tumbling routine stuck the landing right in front of me with only inches to spare. I simply replied, ‘Good job’ and got the game started after she cleared the court,” Holland said.
MSHSAA is active in supporting their officials to make them as prepared as possible. Officiating mechanics clinics are offered around the state of Missouri. Rule meetings as well so that professional development continues for those who wear the uniform. MSHSAA also puts out an annual officiating manual as a reference.
Holland is pleased with what the Missouri State High School Activities Association does in teaching its football and basketball officials. Wanting to see that same level of training for other sports is an opportunity for growth in Holland’s eyes for MSHSAA.
“Training for MSHSAA umpiring is top rate for football and basketball. I would like to see the same type of training for softball, volleyball, etc. Fostering learning at the same level for sports outside of football and basketball would be nice,” Holland said.
It has been well documented throughout the United States that there’s a current shortage of high school officials. The average age of those refereeing sports is increasing, and concern is growing about who’s going to replace those individuals when they hang up their whistles and gear.
The National Federation of State High School Associations has cited a study they conducted recently reporting that around 80 percent of new officials give up the avocation after two years. The main reason listed for quitting is abuse by parents and coaches.
Holland shared his thoughts about why the current officiating shortage exists and what can be done to promote drawing more people to the sideline as officials.
“Fans being hard on young officials and the entitlement of kids. It’s a completely different mindset of our kids today with not wanting constructive criticism. Seasoned officials are getting out because they don’t want to put up with abuse from the fans. Young officials don’t want to put up with the verbal abuse either,” Holland said.
“Many student athletes have been successful, and they should give back by helping the sport that was good to them in a manner they deem appropriate. Refereeing or umpiring is a good opportunity to do so.”
MSHSAA has joined the movement in recent years in attracting new people to officiating. Kenny Seifert is the Director of Officiating for MSHSAA. The Trade Your Stripes program is a new initiative that has been promoted by Seifert and MSHSAA throughout the 2019-2020 school year.
As a tribute to veterans and active military, MSHSAA is waiving first year registration fees. Seifert has shared on the MSHSAA website his thoughts about the Trade Your Stripes program.
“We are asking veterans to trade their military stripes in for officiating stripes. The Trade Your Stripes program was the idea of Mike Pereira, the former Vice President of Officiating for the National Football League and current rule analyst for Fox Sports,” Seifert said.
“Pereira has initiated a national foundation named Battlefields to Ballfields. It will pay for uniforms, dues, equipment, training materials, insurance, and a mentor provided trainer that will follow you as you move up the ladder in officiating. Those interested in learning more may visit the Battlefields to Ballfields website.”
“In some areas of high school officiating, retirements are happening faster than new licenses are being issued. Underclassman games are being postponed or cancelled in some parts of the country due to officiating shortages.”
“Subtract the dedicated men and women who officiate high school sports and competitive sports would no longer be organized; they would be chaotic.”
Seifert concluded, “Becoming a licensed official is a great way to become involved in your community. For those who played high school sports, officiating is a great way to stay close to the sport after their playing days have ended. Being an official expands your social and professional networks while allowing you to stay in shape.”
For more information on how to become a MSHSAA official, visit https://www.mshsaa.org/Officials/
MSHSAA official and Grain Valley resident Ken Holland makes a call on the softball diamond. Photo courtesy: Ken Holland