ST. CLOUD -- With another year of high school sports beginning, the challenges of finding enough people to officiate those games continues to get worse.

The referee shortage has been growing over the last several years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only added to it.

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Paul Conrad is with the St. Cloud Officials Association. He says while a handful of people who opted out last year have returned, there is still a great need for more officials.

We had some officials that didn't work last year for various reason comeback, but some did not. But we are going to be short officials all year, the problem is still here.

Conrad says they're continuously looking for more people, especially the younger generation, wanting to be a high school referee in a number of sports.

There is a lot of Phy-ed classes across the different school districts that we have been invited to speak with students and try to hook them early. We also hound our current officials about asking people who they think may be interested to come join a meeting.

Conrad says the biggest reason people leave or don't get into officiating is because of the verbal abuse they get from fans.

He says they are working with area school districts to help change that stigma.

Conrad says aside from the backlash, becoming a high school official is a rewarding experience and a great way to stay close to the sports you love.

If you would like to become a high school official you can call the Minnesota State High School League office at 763-560-2262.

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