Facing a nationwide shortage of high school sports officials, a correctional officer at Iowa’s Fort Dodge Correctional Facility is trying to do his part.
Jim Bice, who also has refereed high school basketball games since 1991, recently told the Des Moines Register that he has reached out to “non-violent offenders who made poor choices in tough environments as young men”and suggested they consider becoming sports officials upon release from prison.
TheRegister reports that the Iowa High School Athletic Association registered 1,493 officials for boys’ basketball in 2006-07; a decade later, that number was down to 963. Additionally, almost 50 percent of all active game officials are age 50 or older.
What’s more, national surveys reveal an average of about only two out of every 10 officialsreturn for their third year of officiating, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Despite the great need for more referees and umpires, not everyone is taking Bice’s proposal seriously. Citing the “crappy pay and ridiculous workloads and abusive parents” high school sports officials must endure, Deadspin.com questioned the wisdomof “training[ing] prison inmates in the subtle arts of basketball refereeing.”
“So does Bice’s … plan have much hope?” the site asks. “Apparently there aren’t any particular rules prohibiting the transition: Background checks are reportedly not required as part of the application process for officials by either the Iowa High School Athletics Association or the Iowa Girls’ High School Athletic Union.”
Bice told the Register that it’s a “good question”as to whether there would be risk in hiring someone with a criminal past to officiate high school games, adding that he would provide guidance to any of his former inmates who want to officiate. None of the inmates he’s mentored has gone on to officiate yet.
“They’re not bad kids,” he said. “I guess I have a lot of confidence in people.”