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Officials shortage becoming a challenge for local athletic directors

A lack of officials has been making the jobs of athletic directors a little tougher this fall.

Prior Lake Athletic Director Jeff Marshall is in his first season running the Lakers’ programs and he’s had to move two football games from Friday to Thursday night, as well as be more creative with scheduling games at the lower levels.

“The officials shortage is definitely a reality,” Marshall said. “We’ve had a number of lower-level soccer games where we have not had referees, so we’ve either had to have coaches step in as a scrimmage or rescheduled the game.

“Additionally, both soccer and volleyball have moved to different dates on specific weeks to spread games out so officials end up working every night of the week,” Marshall added.

Recently, Marshall had to reschedule volleyball to Monday and Wednesday evenings, which is different from the normal Tuesday and Thursday night slots. Varsity soccer for both boys and girls are being forced to do the same for one week.

“Our (ninth-grade and sophomore) football games will typically be played on Wednesdays back-to-back, so the same crew can work both games as there isn’t enough football officials to spread these out,” Marshall said.

Larger problem

Prior Lake is not the only school being forced to get more creative with their schedules. It’s happening all over the state.

The lack of officials for Minnesota State High School League sports is not a new problem. It started to arise before COVID-19 and the pandemic heightened it.

Tim Leighton, the communications coordinator for the MSHSL, who is also a former high school official, said there are 6,000 officials registered with the league. Some did opt out due to the pandemic, but many have come back.

The MSHSL’s “Thank a Ref” promotion, which has been in place for six years, is a way to recognize officials.

“Being able to say thank you to a referee goes a long way,” Leighton said. “It’s a great program. We are the first in the country to do that.”

But does the program help replace officials who have left due to COVID-19 or have retired? Leighton said there are many programs in place to replace officials.

The MSHSL has programs targeting younger officials and is providing multiple mentorship programs.

“Our job is to continue to recruit new officials and retain the ones we have,” Leighton said. “We want them to stay, but we also have to bring in younger officials.”

According to the National Federation of State High Schools Associations, “the shortage of officials in high school – and middle school – sports has been a growing concern for several years.” One reason for that, stated by Dr. Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the NFHS, in her Sept. 1 column, “The NFHS Voice,” is “due to unsportsmanlike behavior by parents and other adult fans.”

“Now, additional sports officials are electing to stay on the sidelines because of health concerns related to COVID-19, or they are uncomfortable wearing a mask during games,” Niehoff wrote in her weekly column.

The NFHS actively recruits new officials through its #BecomeAnOfficial campaign. But that doesn’t help local athletic directors right now.

Challenging fall

Chaska Athletic Director Jon Summer said ensuring there are officials this fall for all sports at all levels has been the most challenging in his 21 years as an athletic director.

COVID-19 made that difficult last year, but there were less games and not all levels played due to the pandemic. It was still tough, but all levels for all sports are back this fall and it’s made finding officials that much harder.

“This year, this fall, we have to be more flexible in moving game dates and times, depending on officials availability,” Summer said.

There are different associations around the state, commonly referred to as assigners, that work with high schools and conferences in scheduling officials for games. Chaska’s fall schedule was set last spring, but over the summer the assigners were already telling Summer there would be conflicts this fall and some games will likely need to be rescheduled.

Shakopee Athletic Director Matt Hanson was hearing the same thing from the assigners for the South Suburban Conference. Hanson said they’ve had to move the Sabers’ football game with No. 1-ranked Lakeville South off the preferred Friday night date to a day earlier (Oct. 14).

“We have to move multiple football games at different levels,” Hanson said. “It’s not ideal, but we’ve had to be more creative.”

Hanson said volleyball and soccer games have had to move off their traditional Tuesday and Thursday slots to Monday and Wednesday. That will be the case for some basketball games this winter being moved off the traditional Tuesday and Friday night games to other days.

“We were told to to anticipate this next year, so we’ve already set some football games on Thursday night for next fall,” Hanson said. “Unless there’s a strong recruiting class (of officials), we’ve been told to move things right now for next fall instead of doing it later.”

Hanson said lacrosse and soccer are two sports that are the most difficult to find available officials. He’s seeing that in lower level soccer games this fall, while lacrosse has always had problems finding officials due to the sport being relatively new in the state.

Youth officials

Tony Schrepfer, director of officials for Minnesota Youth Athletic Services, said there’s been a decline in youth officials the past few years and COVID-19 has had an impact on recruiting new officials.

He said scheduling has been tough all around for all sports.

“The officials who are still officiating are having to work more games than in the past,” Schrepfer said. “As we come out of the pandemic, people are wanting to get back to playing, and a lot of officials didn’t come back last year and are not coming back this year as well due to the lingering effects of COVID.”

Schrepfer, who was hired by the MYAS back in August, said the MYAS has changed its approach on how to recruit new officials. There will be more educational training focusing on technique, and a change in culture inside the MYAS to make sure current officials are being taken care of and new ones are getting the training they need.

“A lot of the time, officials feel like they’re left to fend for themselves,” Schrepfer said. “But with our new department, we’re here for the officials in every aspect, as we are officials too and have nothing but the best interest in officials and officiating.

“We’re just putting the finishing touches on our new program that we’ll be rolling out for the 2022-23 basketball season,” Schrepfer added. “We will have a similar program in place for this upcoming spring for baseball too.”


Community
A cappella group Straight No Chaser coming to Mystic Lake

For those interested in experiencing a lively and impressive performance, a cappella singing is sure to deliver. Does this sound like something you want to hear for yourself?

The musical group Straight No Chaser will be performing a family friendly show at Mystic Lake Casino, 2400 Mystic Lake Blvd NW, Prior Lake at 8 p.m., Friday, Oct. 22. Ticket prices start at $25.

According to Seggie Isho, who typically sings baritone for the group, people often have misconceptions about a cappella, which is a style of singing without instrumental accompaniment.

“When someone thinks about a cappella they’re thinking about … a lot of the stereotypical things about a cappella just a bunch of, for lack of better terms, nerds, wearing matching sport coats, singing old standards.”

While the group includes comedy and silliness in the performance, they take the music seriously. The group crafts its shows to emulate the Rat Pack. They are singing the standards as well as more contemporary music and “doing it with a swagger,” Isho said.

“We understand our audience varies,” Isho said. “When we’re choosing music, we’re very conscious of who’s coming to the shows.”

Straight No Chaser will be performing a wide variety of music. That includes their classic songs, music by Queen, Earth Wind and Fire, Dua Lipa and holiday music from their album “Social Christmasing,” which was recorded during the pandemic. The group wants to cover every angle so that anyone who comes to the show has a good time, Isho said.

“We want to go out there and have fun and we think as long as we’re having fun, the audience is gonna have fun,” Isho said.

By December, the group will be performing eight shows a week. Most musical groups have orchestras, bands or tracks to help aid them throughout the show, Isho said. Straight No Chaser sings the entire time, there isn’t a drum solo to take a break on.

According to Isho, the most challenging part of a cappella is “the vocal stamina to sing an entire show day in and day out … keeping your voice in shape and staying healthy on the road.”

LOCAL SCHOOLS

A cappella isn’t only on the big stage in the Southwest metro area. Local schools offer programing to get students involved in the style of singing.

According to Katie McKnight, the Jordan High School choir director, a cappella is unique because the singers are recreating the entire audio track. The singers must emulate every instrument such as the bass, guitars, keyboards and horns.

“There are these more specific roles, that when they’re done and executed well, can really create this amazing vocal band sound,” McKnight said.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Jordan High School had men’s, women’s and mixed a cappella groups. For the time being, there are women’s and mixed groups. The pandemic caused some changes, but McKnight is working to get things back to normal.

At the high school, a cappella is an extracurricular. While McKnight is in charge and writes the arrangements, the students are the ones taking ownership and leadership of the group. They select the music, soloist, choreography and attire.

“They’re getting this extra responsibility and opportunity to like take charge of what they really want to do on stage and what they want to represent,” McKnight said. “I think that’s a really cool thing that happens here.”

According to McKnight, it could be argued that a cappella style is more challenging than standard choral singing because there is no musical accompaniment. In traditional choral music the different voice parts are also singing the same words but in different harmonies and pitches. In a cappella, the voice parts are singing entirely different things from each other.

A cappella singers have to have a strong ear to know what their part is supposed to sound like, McKnight said. They also have to sing their part while other parts are singing at the same time and because the style is usually pop music, they have to be able to emulate that kind of stylistic tone, she added.

“You need to be a lot more independent as a singer,” McKnight said.

The style of music really exploded in popularity around the time that the first “Pitch Perfect” movie came out, McKnight said. The movie is about a women’s a cappella group that competes against another group at its college. Every high school wanted to do it and schools were changing their programs. While it is really popular right now, she isn’t sure if the style’s popularity has gone past its peak.

GOING MAINSTREAM

Great a cappella, such as barbershop quartets, has been around for a long time, said Krin McMillen, a voice instructor at Chaska Music Studios in an email. She thinks it has become more mainstream and popular over the past few years, thanks to Pentatonix and movies like “Pitch Perfect.”

Chaska Music Studios is not currently offering an a cappella group, due to the spread of germs through singing. Before the pandemic, it had a small group of middle and high school girls who sang a cappella.

A cappella is a style that really requires singers to be high level musicians, McMillen said. A cappella singers have to listen carefully to each other to stay in tune and together rhythmically.

“They have to work together to create beautiful music as a team,” McMillen said.

When instructing a cappella singers, McMillen works on ear training skills, good tonality, practicing rhythms, keeping a steady beat and working together as a team. She has her students harmonize with her or be able to sing with her while she plays the piano. That helps them to learn how to work with other musicians in an ensemble and how other music parts interact with theirs, she said.

McMillen is not only an instructor, she has also performed a cappella herself. She has performed as a singer at Valleyfair Amusement Park and performs a cappella music regularly with professional choirs in the Twin Cities.

“A cappella singing is one of the most fun ways to sing,” McMillen said. “I encourage all students to give it a try.”


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