ABERDEEN, Miss. (WTVA) -- Imagine this scenario: Both high school football teams erupt through their school banners to the raucous cheers of the crowd, amped to play under the lights on Friday night. Then an administrator comes onto the field and tells the home coach that they have to cancel the game, not because of COVID, but because the game didn't have referees. Seem unrealistic? Well, soon it may be a harsh reality, as the number of referees in the state has gone down according to a local referee assignor.
Aberdeen native Earnest Williams has refereed games in Mississippi for nearly 30 years. He said that in all his years, he hasn't seen the referee numbers this bad. He said part of the reason recently was COVID, but the numbers started dipping before 2020 across all sports.
"A little bit before covid came we started having a lack of interest," Williams said. "Maybe some could be an intimidation factor we had some guys that would get in, stay in for a year or two, dealing with crowd control, sideline control, kind of factors into people not wanting to officiate."
A lot of long-time referees are retiring and right now, there's not a lot of people from the younger generation getting certified. For Williams, he loved playing sports, and being a referee has kept him engaged in the games he loves. He encourages other former athletes to do the same, but he also asks fans and coaches to take easy on the refs, after all:
"We all human, we work hard at what we do, we got to a part of the ballgame just like the ball itself," Williams said. "It's here in the game now because now you have a lack of officials so I'd tell the parents, let your child have fun, let the coaches coach, and let the referees ref the game."
The best part of this situation? It's an easy solution. Do you love football? Do you want to be in the game? Click here for an application.