Officiating is often referred to as a thankless avocation. One state high school association is turning that around, and instead is thanking officials.
In what is believed to be the first-of-its-kind program, the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) is in the midst of a “Thank A Ref” campaign that urges and assists its member schools to show appreciation for officials at the varsity and sub-varsity levels.
“This is a truly unique campaign, one that is a great way to accentuate the outstanding benefits and joy that we get out of officiating at the high school level,” said Jason Nickleby, the MSHSL’s coordinator of officials. “Our member schools are very appreciative of the 6,300 contest officials and judges that work tirelessly on behalf of kids. We look forward to seeing the creative and exciting things that our schools and teams are doing for our League officials.”
In the wake of a nationwide officials’ shortage, the MSHSL’s “Thank A Ref” campaign was first launched in 2015. But instead of accentuating the national crisis for more officials, the MSHSL’s “Thank A Ref” campaign was designed to not only emphasize the positives of officiating, but also to complement the League’s efforts at recruiting and retaining officials.
Included in the MSHSL’s promotional packet that was sent to its member schools in mid-September, were ideas that administrators could implement in their appreciative actions toward officials.
Following are some of those ideas:
Administrators and coaches hit social media with feedback on the efforts.
“(I’m) not sure who started it, but gotta say I love the #ThankARef tweets that have become so popular this fall!” tweeted Tim Owen, an assistant baseball coach at Austin High School.
“This week it took 36 @MSHSL_Officials to officiate home @STMAHighSchool events. We could not do it without them!” tweeted Keith Cornell, activities director at St. Michael-Albertville High School.
One site manager shared that he turned the showers on early for the officials because he knew it would take a while for the water to warm up.
Keys to the “Thank A Ref” campaign are daily lessons in sportsmanship. The program allows players and coaches to show gratitude for the tough avocation of officiating. This emphasis on sportsmanship is particularly crucial for officials at the sub-varsity levels involving mostly new and younger officials.
“There are so many positive lessons to be learned through this program,” Nickleby said. “Officials enjoy continuing their involvement in the sports they love. Many enjoy the opportunities to give back as a way of showing their appreciation for the positive experiences they had as a student-athlete. Officials truly receive great satisfaction from a job well done. Managing a game effectively, and making sure the contests are fair, safe and fun for players, coaches and fans is a great reward.
This is an ongoing campaign that will be trumpeted again during the winter and spring activities seasons.
“We always want to thank our officials for the incredible jobs they do,” Nickleby said.
Tim Leighton is communications coordinator for the Minnesota State High School League and a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.