Football refs needed post-pandemic
The Lakeshore Football Officials Association is launching a campaign to recruit individuals who have a passion for football and are eager to stay engaged with the game.
“We are reaching out to women and men, teens and adults who may be interested and have a passion for football,” said Murray Drinkwalter, the LFOA’s referee in chief. “If you bring that passion, you will be mentored by some of the best football officials in the country.”
The LFOA has slightly more than 100 officials and is in charge of officiating all the community and high school tackle football in the regions of Halton, Peel, and Niagara.
Drinkwalter isn’t saying there is a shortage of officials but he knows the organization needs to boost its numbers.
“We could always use more. For some reason, people don’t take to football officiating like they do to hockey officiating,” he said.
Drinkwalter is concerned what will happen when the pandemic ends.
“Because of the pandemic and the layoff, a lot of our people haven’t officiated a football game since November of 2019,” he said. “Some of our more experienced and older officials may be thinking of hanging it up because of the layoff and we are embarking on a recruiting strategy this year that is a little more active than we’ve been in previous years.
“Some of our officials have already said that they will not be coming back.”
Drinkwalter estimates the number of retiring officials could be as high as 15 or 20 per cent.
The main focus of the recruiting push is to attract individuals who have the availability to officiate high school football from September to November, which is the busiest time for the organization. High school games are normally played Tuesday through Friday with most doubleheaders kicking off at noon, 1 p.m. or 2:30 p.m.
Drinkwalter feels there are many things that make officiating football an attractive option.
“Try it if you love the game of football, if you want to earn a little extra money while all the while giving back to the community, if you want to stay active and even to the point of maybe building a resume or learning some life skills,” he said. “Officiating teaches independent thinking and those skills translate to outside of officiating.”
Prospective officials shouldn’t worry about being a beginner official in a sport that is challenging to ref.
“It is different if you don’t have a football background but we have a lot of good mentors in our organization that will take people under their wings,” he said. “People who don’t necessarily have a football need not worry because they are going to be properly mentored and we will have them prepared to take the field.”
“Someone from our executive will be in touch with them immediately and we will put them in contact with our Level 1 recruiting coordinator,” Drinkwalter said.
All new officials must complete a Level 1 Football Canada Officials’ Certification Program, which has yet to be scheduled. The course is normally held one or two days over a weekend.
Once a person received their Level 1 certification, they are qualified to do community football up to a certain age group, junior high school football and possibly senior high school football depending on the availability of other officials.
The LFOA was established in 1963 and Drinkwalter has been with the association for 39 years.
“I have a passion for the game of football and a passion for football officiating,” he said. “I have been very fortunate and I have had a successful football officiating career. It is all because of Lakeshore and I want to give back to my organization.”
The 65-year-old has officiated a Vanier Cup, a couple of Mitchell Bowls and several Yates Cups. His career at the USPORTS level emphasizes that the sky is the limit for aspiring officials.
“It is absolutely limitless,” he said.”Many of our members are current or former CFL officials and many or our members are current or former OUA (Ontario University Athletics) officials.”