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Amid referee shortage, high school volleyball coaches are asked to step in to officiate

By NHSCA, 09/17/19, 2:45PM CDT



The start of the girls volleyball season was delayed due to a referee work stoppage and coaches are now officiating games

WELLINGTON — Volleyball is back, but it comes with a catch: faced with a shortage of referees, high school coaches are being asked to referee their own matches.

It’s an unprecedented development for the popular sport, one that Wellington coach Kathy Bourque has never seen in her 30 years of coaching.

It’ come after a week of regular-season matches were canceled due to a referee work stoppage. Late last week the Florida High School Athletics Association de-sanctioned those striking county referees, who were pushing for higher pay, leaving coaches to help fill the void.

“This is the first time this has ever happened,” Bourque said. “I’ve coached, I was a player at UCF, I’ve coached at every level, and we’ve never had this issue.”

Whereas other counties around the state of Florida are well into their volleyball season, many of Palm Beach County’s volleyball teams just started their 2019 campaign.

Numerous preseason and regular-season matches were canceled or rescheduled with the East Coast Officials Volleyball Association on strike. A few private schools hosted matches during the strike, but not Palm Beach Gardens, a public school which has lost in the state finals the last three seasons.

“It was unsettling, for sure, knowing that all the other counties — the ones that are so tough for us to come up against — have no problem,” Gardens coach Joy VanDyke said. “It’s smooth sailing (for them), and here we are, and it’s like the deck is stacked against you, almost.”

Even now, for some teams around the county, the games are only made possible by putting the program’s coaches in what many would consider a wholly uncomfortable position: referring their own team. In a fast-paced sport where the ball travels upwards of 40 miles per hour throughout the game, not every call is easy.

Boca Raton junior varsity coach Alyssa Rush acted as the second referee during the Bobcats’ varsity regular-season matchup against Wellington on Tuesday.

While refereeing, Rush admitted there were some fans and coaches that “kind of yelled” about certain calls.

“There were a few calls I made that were tight at the net,” Rush said. “When the balls are kind of right in the middle, you’re kind of like, ‘Which way do you go?’ But you have to go with the first person that’s contacting the ball. It’s tough in those tight situations. You hear the coach kind of yelling and giving feedback on the sidelines and you really have to be confident in what you’re doing, and that gives them confidence in you.”

Rush explained she was more than happy to referee if it gave the kids a chance to play and get the regular season underway. Boca Raton has a large amount of seniors on the roster, and with the season being delayed for so long, the program faced a severely-shortened year or worse if the coaches didn’t step in.

Bourque said Rush called a fair game, but acknowledged the strain that refereeing puts on the coaches asked to participate.

“I coached the freshman team, won that match, then had to ref the JV game,” Bourque said. “I didn’t spend enough time with my team, because I was reffing that game, so that kind of hurt.”

In the end, coaches around the county are grateful that the season is finally underway. But as the officials shortage continues to create issues, more and more coaches are finding their games will rely on calls made by their peers.