PENNSYLVANIA, USA — The return to the classroom means the return to the football field, soccer pitch, and other high school sporting events.
However, a shortage of officials is causing issues for the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA).
"I'll use football for an example, we're used to playing on Friday nights," PIAA District III Representative Bill McHade said. "Some games will be moved to Thursday and Saturday because there's just not enough officials to go around. It's probably going to impact other sports as well."
Aside from scheduling conflicts and pay, a spike in violence towards referees and officials has contributed to the shortage.
"We bring these younger officials on, and sometimes the conduct and behavior that they're subjected to makes them say, 'Hey, I don't want to put up with this,'" PIAA District III Representative Bill McHale said. "They walk away after a year or so."
Last year, a Spring Grove Football player was charged with assault after attacking a referee. It's not just high school sports either, on Aug. 14, Chambersburg Police arrested an adult league soccer player who punched a referee in the face during a soccer game.
"It is becoming more and more prevalent. I don't understand it. It's very upsetting," Capital Area Football Officials Association President Kevin Bevenour said. "To see this kind of stuff, it really makes it tough, it's in the back of your head."
Bevenour has been officiating for 20 years, and even his daughters have joined the ranks. Still, numbers are dwindling.
A 2017 survey conducted by the National Association of Sports Officials, found that of the 17,847 referee respondents, 6,675 felt unsafe or feared for their safety because of administrator, coach, player or spectator behavior.
In the same survey, 57% of officials (10,172) believed sportsmanship is getting worse, while only 16% (2,855) believe it's improving.
Bevenour says this has made it harder for officials like himself to continue officiating.
"There is a retention issue, there's a big problem of getting young, newer officials," Bevenour said. "Having in the back of your mind that you're gonna get yelled at, that you could get attacked, is got to be one of the reasons why people don't do it."
Efforts are being made to help protect officials at games and events as a result of the violence.
"PIAA has been working with the school districts, and doing a much better job of increasing security for officiating crews at various events on their campuses," McHade said.
Bevenour urges more effort to keep officials on the field.
"There are initiatives, it is something on the front of everybody's mind," Bevenour said. "We got to help officials and we need to retain officials."
In Pennsylvania, an assault on a sports official is classified as a first-degree misdemeanor.