CLEVELAND (WJW) – A high school football referee’s night doesn’t begin at kickoff. It is a five to six-hour commitment of time both before and after the game and a lot of running around in between.
They are on top of every play for every down and their decisions, right or wrong, mean a lot. Even with such an important job, Northeast Ohio refs say the pay they get is abysmal.
“When I started, the varsity fees were $40 to $45 and right now they’re averaging $72, so that’s a $27 increase over the last 38 years,” Cleveland Football Officials Association Secretary Anthony Bondra said.
He says back in February, they sent a letter to area athletic directors and league commissioners asking for a raise from $72 per varsity game to $100 per game.
They even offered to do it over a three-year period.
Bondra says the response has been less than what they expected and that may mean no refs for the first week of the season.
“We want to work with the athletic directors. Some of them want to work with us and some conferences have summarily rejected any increase in pay. You could say the target of the boycott would be them, but as a group, we want to be united and do something across Northeast Ohio football,” Bondra said.
The association says Ohio refs are the seventh lowest paid in the country.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, on average, high school football refs make between $94 and $100 per game.
In Ohio, the rate is $72 per game.
The states that pay the most are New York, Oklahoma, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Vermont, paying their refs between $110 and $120 per game.
Western Pennsylvania–in particular, the Pittsburgh area–pays the most with some refs making $200 per game.
“We’re trying to attract new officials because of the significant decline in football. We need to make it more attractive. We need to get more younger officials involved.” Bondra said.
Bondra says they’re still talking with many districts to try to hash this out. Over all, they hate the fact that this would cause so many problems for the game they love and hurt the players who get so much out of the game.
But he says they’re at a point where they have little choice.
“If they remain steadfast, I can assure you there will be a boycott in week one,” Bondra said.