CHSAA implements plan for referee retention and recruitment

Tom Skulski
Steamboat Pilot & Today
CHSAA passed new measures to ensure increased pay and a crack down on harassment for high school referees in the state in late January as part of an initiative to better recruit and retain referees.
Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today

High school referees already have a thankless job, and they’ve been struggling even more in recent years. However, the Colorado High School Activities Association is trying to offer some relief.

CHSAA administrators have seen a decline in high school officials’ retention rates and interest over the years and acknowledge the root of the problem comes from little pay and increased harassment from fans during games. 

In an effort to extend its effort in recruiting and retaining high school officials, the Colorado High School Activities Association passed two new measures on Jan. 24, increasing officials’ base pay and mileage compensation.

This is the second time this school year CHSAA has passed measures to boost referee recruitment, with the first being the “You Look Good In Stripes” initiative in November.

Starting with the 2023-24 high school sports seasons, there will be a three-year gradual pay increase for Colorado referees that will take the state from being in the lower tier of referee compensation to having one of the higher payouts in the nation. 

CHSAA Assistant Commissioner Mike Book is responsible for managing Colorado high school referees, and he played a major role in getting the new measures passed. As a referee, he understands the time commitment and agrees the pay is currently not enough. 

“We came up with this three-year structure where year one is about a 33% to 35% increase from where it currently is,” Book said. “By the end of year three, it will be about a 48% to 50% increase depending on the sport. That will put us ahead or close to where the states are around us.”

Book said the pay is lower in Colorado because of the variety of sports the state offers to its high school students. States like Wyoming can pay their officials more because there are fewer sports, meaning there are fewer officials to pay.

On top of the increased pay will be a boosted travel payment for referees traveling more than 20 miles one way. The payment will gradually increase from 40 cents per mile to 60 cents for the 2025-26 season.

Locally, the heightened travel payment will benefit high school officials who find themselves traveling every week.

Jim Beers is a local referee who officiates basketball and football games. He and other nearby officials for those sports cover three counties — Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco. 

Additionally, Book said that compensation hasn’t increased since he began officiating games over 20 years ago. 

The other major component to these initiatives is cracking down on the harassment of officials at games. Some states have passed laws that make referee harassment a felony. While Colorado is not one of those states, CHSAA officials want to start the process and show people that the organization supports schools and officials. 

“I think the protection for game officials is a very important component for recruiting,” Beers said. “What we hear from a younger generation of people is that they don’t want to come in and take any type of harassment for whatever the game fee is. The game fee is secondary.”

Both Beers and Book give a lot of credit to Colorado school districts for understanding and agreeing to pass these measures. The money to pay these referees will come from the schools’ budgets. 

“I want to give the schools and athletic directors around the state major props for passing both the game fee increase with a 97% approval rating and the protection for game officials with a 93% approval rating,” Beers said. 

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