The last few weeks of the local prep volleyball regular season required a bit of schedule shuffling.
Instead of all the teams in Wesco 4A and Wesco 3A/2A playing each Tuesday and Thursday, as has been the norm, a lack of volleyball officials in Snohomish County forced some teams to play on Mondays and Wednesdays so that a reduced number of officials could cover all the contests.
Dan Taylor, Snohomish County’s head volleyball official, said the number of volleyball officials has been in a slow but steady decline over the past several years. Taylor, who has officiated volleyball for 18 years and spent the past seven as the county’s head official, said his roster has about 30 referees who work regularly and about 10 more who work on more of a part-time basis.
“We’re always trying to get more refs,” he said, “and people just don’t want to come out and do it.”
Taylor said each varsity match should have at least two refs, and some require line judges, which adds another two officials to the fold. With 23 schools in Wesco, a full slate of conference games (11) requires at least 22 officials. That number is even higher when needs for line judges come into play, and it doesn’t include other potential games across the county involving squads in the North Sound Conference and Northwest 2B and 1B leagues.
Taylor, who assigns officials to each match as part of his head official duties, said one night this season saw the need for 40 officials (15 games, five with line judges).
“If they were able to spread the games out, you know Monday through Friday, Monday through Thursday, everything would work out a lot better — at least for us,” said Taylor, who added that schools around the area worked well with him to accommodate the lack of referees this year.
If games do have to be canceled or rescheduled because of a lack of officials, doing so starts with schools in the lowest classification and works its way up. Reaching out to other districts for refs is also an option.
“We’ve never had to reach out so far to another district … for help, but it’s wide-open to do that if we need that,” Taylor said.
Local volleyball teams are in the midst of district tournaments right now. Taylor didn’t see any issues staffing those tournaments, but he said the experience level of officials who will be working those games isn’t as high as he would like.
“We have the right number, but we don’t have the quality number,” Taylor said. “… because when you get to the districts, it’s kind of a whole new level, particularly the second round, third round and so on.”
Identifying the biggest contributing factor to the lack of volleyball officials was easy for Taylor.
“A lot of it has to do with the attitudes of the parents. The parents have scared so many people away,” said Taylor, who noted that volleyball referees don’t get treated as poorly as officials in some other sports. “People come out, (spectators) scream and yell and do all sorts of awful stuff to them, and then they don’t come back.”
In an effort to try to boost the number of officials long-term, Taylor has spent the past few years bringing in younger refs — some who still play volleyball in high school — to start officiating games at the middle-school level. Those efforts haven’t paid dividends, though, as Taylor said he hasn’t had any luck retaining those officials. Other area high school sports, such as wrestling, also have struggled with a lack of seasoned officials, and have tried similar methods of recruiting new blood to their organizations, with varying degrees of success.
Taylor also has tried to spread the word for the need of more officials through college bulletin boards and local newspapers, but most of the new officials he gets are through word-of-mouth. The gains through those avenues are outweighed by the attrition each year, however.
But Taylor hasn’t given up on finding a way to bring more officials into the fold for the sake of the student-athletes.
“I love working for the kids,” he said. “The kids are the most important thing about this whole thing.”