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Opinion - Help Wanted: Referees to get back in the game 

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Dr. K. Kevin Aten

Visiting any business involves walking by a Help Wanted sign. Sports officiating is facing the same human capital shortage across the United States. While sports officials don’t wear Help Wanted signs at games, maybe we should. Nonetheless, we need sports officials to officiate games and keep our young people involved in high school athletics.

Without sports officials, Friday night high school football and varsity basketball or soccer games could be in danger of slipping away.

Many things in our world are changing too fast. We need to keep educational-based athletics one thing the students, families and communities can depend on happening. Because of officiating shortages, we are seeing what was a community fixture of high school football, Friday Night Lights, become Thursday Night Lights and Saturday Afternoon Sunlight to get the games covered by referees. Moreover, myself and other referees work high school games in New Mexico, Colorado and Utah to ensure the students-athletes can play.

The fraternity of sports officials travel to games not because we get paid big money – we don’t – but because we aspire to facilitate an elusive perfect game. As a football official colleague states, sports officials pursue perfection and excellence – life lessons that we can bring to our careers and our families.

Great officials share a commitment to the students-athletes, coaches and families. Furthermore, we serve a game that has likely been in our blood for years.

We work every contest to ensure students-athletes realize lifelong learning and lessons that grow from grit, hope and tenacity. We also teach that fumbles and fouls in life happen, and we can succeed despite these momentary interruptions and obstacles. At all levels, officials are arbiters of fair play and role models for hard work.

When my fellow officials and I finish a game, we often speak of the important lessons experienced by our young people who are building character and workplace skills. We take pride in knowing we offered young people wholesome, educational-based athletics with memories that last a lifetime.

Sport officials serve alongside a group of fellow officials who read, study, watch and work out to be ready for the next challenging game assignment. We want to be ready for your son or daughter’s next big moment on the field or the pitch, too.

This basketball season marks my 38th year as a three-sports official, a combination of basketball, football and soccer. I have been fortunate to work multiple state championships. Officiating has opened numerous doors, personally and professionally. My other referee colleagues and I fear, with this acute shortage, we are on the verge of closing doors for our young people and our communities.

Let’s keep Friday Night Lights on Friday. Let’s ensure our communities and our children have competitive games and learn lifelong lessons. After all, without officials, we are just running a recess scrimmage!

Becoming a sport official is easy and virtually free. Once you call a game or two, it gets in your blood. The smiles and the hard work of the young people will touch your heart. Your friendship, and the service with coaches and fellow officials will also last a lifetime.

The Colorado High School Activities Association just launched a new #YouLookGoodinStripes campaign to recruit new officials and the association will pay registration for the first year. The link can be found on by clicking on the “Officials” tab at the top right of the page and following the “Sign-up” link.

NOTE: This guest column was previously published in the The Journal and The Durango Herald on December 14, 2022. Dr. Aten has given permission for it to be republished.

K. Kevin Aten, Ed.D., is a Durango native and president of the Durango and Cortez Football Officials Association. Aten also assigns soccer officials in Southwest Colorado. He can be reached at