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More than 20 local officials opt out of 2020 high school football season

A referee shortage might cause schedule changes for high school football in West Michigan for the fall of 2020. (WWMT/File)

Now that the Michigan High School Athletic Association football season is back on, referees face the decision of taking the field, or opting out.

The Kalamazoo Officials Association had previously known of seven officials that had opted out before the season was canceled in the first play.

With the Sept. 3, 2020, reinstatement of high school sports, and football moving back to the fall, an additional 13 referees have opted out and one more has retired. That brings the total of referees not returning for this season to 21. On top of the lack of officials, teams are changing their schedules, making scheduling officials a little tougher for coordinator of officials, said Todd Gooding.

"Some leagues are overhauling their schedules, some are tweaking their schedules and some are leaving them as is. Some of those games are reassigned, but some of the officials already scheduled vacations, so we're in a tough spot," Gooding said.

While the MHSAA has been recruiting officials to help plug the holes, the new officials for this season won't have the luxury of calling scrimmages or attending clinics due to COVID-19 restrictions.

"I think it's safe to say we can expect some turbulence," Gooding said. "I think we're going to have some new officials. We're pretty much going to take what we can get right now. We have to get guys who are going to jump right into the fire. So, it's going to be a learning curve for everybody and we're all just going to have to get through it."

High schools have struggled to find referees for years, but add in the pandemic and that makes the need for officials that much greater.

"We were in a dire need last year. Coming into this we were short, so now we're in times that nobody has ever experienced. We're going to do our best to get through it," Gooding said.

There is still time to sign up to be a referee in any sport.