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The Sports Reports

ELMIRA — It’s an issue all over the country, and our area is not immune: there’s a shortage of high school officials in nearly every sport.

Mike McCawley, the board president of the Southern New York Basketball Officials Association, says several factors are at work in the dwindling numbers of basketball officials.

“Part of our issue is the guys who have been doing this for a long time are getting older, and we’re on the downhill slide.

“We’ve got some newer guys involved the last few years, but in between, so to speak, is empty,” noted McCawley.

“Retainment is the hard part,” he added. “We’ll get three or four new guys a year, if we can keep one of them we’re doing well. “I’d like to see us get a dozen, and keep four or five.

One of the reason for the dwindling number of officials is the lack of youth basketball being played that isn’t AAU basketball.

“The other problem we have with retaining people is we don’t the feeder programs anymore — the youth leagues have dried up,” said McCawley.

“We use to send guys to the CYO leagues to train and gain experience, but those no longer exist.

“Now, the guys are getting thrown into the fire with their first experience being at the  modified and JV level,” noted McCawley.

“When I first started, 30-plus years ago, the officials use to host a preseason tournament with all the CYO teams from all over — a big tournament,” continued McCawley. “We would take the new guys coming in that year, and that’s where we would train them.

“We don’t have anything like that anymore,” he added.

Part of the problem, says McCawley, is not knowing how to get involved, but the major underlying issue is the attitude of fans these days.

“I think the other problem for sustainability is, ‘Can you handle the heat in the kitchen?’ … you  have to have big shoulders in this kind of avocation.

“That’s really now becoming our biggest Achilles’ Heel — the fans and the way we’re treated,” said McCawley.

“We’ve had issues where officials have been chased out of gyms, and people have met them at their vehicles,” he added. “Those are the situations where guys throw their hands up and say, ‘I don’t need this anymore.’”

McCawley believes officiating is a great way to stay involved when your playing days are done.

“If you have an interest in basketball, or any high school sport for that matter, and you’re interested in staying involved … if you can’t play, or don’t play anymore, but you still want to be involved, then officiating is a great way to do that,” he said.

“You’re not only staying involved, but you can earn a couple bucks in the process,” McCawley added.

Varsity officials will earn $103.50 per game this season, while JV officials will make $62.10 per game, and modified / junior officials will make roughly $55.

McCawley and others are hoping that the governing bodies for high school sports will begin to take a much tougher stance on fans and their interactions with officials.

Section IV is currently in the process of crafting a new policy dealing with how abusive fans will be dealt with.

If you’re interested in becoming a basketball official, you can contact Mike McCawley at (607) 857-1115, or via e-mail at

“We offer training. We just don’t throw the new guys straight into the fire,” laughed McCawley.

“There is a nominal cost, you’ll have to purchase uniforms,” he noted. “We’re trying to ease some of the fees, like keeping the cost of the classes we keep to a bare minimum, knowing uniforms have to be purchased.

“We reimburse for finger-printing because we know guys won’t start getting money in until the games start,” he added.


IN PHOTO 1: Basketball official Al Engelbert. … PHOTOS BY BRIAN FEES.

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