Long Island high school sports facing referee shortages in pandemic-shortened season
The shortened high school winter sports season comes to an end this week, but a problem it brought up could continue for a while.
There are more than 2,000 registered referees on Long Island, but many of them have decided to step aside this season.
"I have a 90-year-old father who I see about three times a week and he's even scared to come out of his own house," says Jim Huey, who has worked for nearly four decades on the court. "Plus, I have three young grandchildren who I see on a daily basis."
Montauk restaurant owner Dave Rutkowski, who has refereed games for five years, also bowed out in order to protect his employees and their livelihoods. His mother also died of COVID-19 last month.
"I was a little on the fence, but after she passed, I couldn't see myself doing it," says Rutkowski.
The two aren't alone -- according to the head of Nassau scholastic sports, more than 50% of the county's refs decided not to work this year, In Suffolk, the numbers are about 20% despite protocols created by state officials to keep referees safe. Those rules include wearing masks, coming dressed to games, using electronic whistles and eliminating handshakes and close conversations.
The lack of referees is being felt on all levels. Some games have been canceled, while others are understaffed. Some games are working with one official, while some high school officials are being asked to do JV and varsity games.
Athletics officials say they hope refs will come back after getting vaccinated, but that could be months. They also hope the shortage won't be as bad for outdoor sports.