Submitted by North Thurston Public Schools
The Physical Education (PE) department at North Thurston High School (NTHS) now offers its students a Sports Officiating course. This exciting new class prepares students to serve as referees, umpires, judges or officials at sporting events of all kinds. In line with a recent board determination, this course supports the district’s efforts to increase the number of students participating in community-based activities. Partnerships with local officiating organizations also support students’ connectedness with positive community programs.
In the first semester of the course, students will learn skills, rules, and mechanics to officiate baseball, fastpitch, football, and basketball at high school and middle school levels. They’ll also learn to judge competitive diving at a high school level. In addition to classroom instruction, they’ll have live officiating opportunities with other NTHS students during PE courses.
“Officiating is a skill that can be used for many years and has very positive benefits for students’ physical health and their interpersonal skill development,” says William Garrow, the Sports Officiating course instructor. “Any student who wishes to learn more about officiating would be a great fit in this course.” Students who pursue an official certification and join local officiating associations can use it as part-time employment.
Partnerships with the South Sound Football Officials Association (SSFOA), the South Sound Basketball Officials Association (SSBOA), and the South Sound Umpires Association (SSUA) are vital to the structure of the course. In addition to classroom instruction and practice officiating in PE class, students will “job shadow” at evening games and contests with varsity officiating crews from these organizations.
“Without officials, there is no game,” says Terry Simmonds, a seasoned official and assigner with the SSFOA. He emphasizes the need for younger officiants to enter the ranks. When Garrow reached out to him for support with starting the new Sports Officiating course, he was more than happy to lend a hand. He helped Mr. Garrow secure up-to-date rule books and mechanics manuals from the state office and reviewed the new course’s curriculum for accuracy.
Since the start of the new PE course, Simmonds has welcomed groups of four students to the field for football games on Thursday and Friday nights. The students join the varsity officials in the locker room for a pregame discussion, and then head out to the field to meet with the competing teams’ coaches. Simmonds lets the students know where to be throughout the game so they can shadow officials in various roles around the field. Student safety is a top priority, so they’re also given clear instructions about what to do if the ball or the players come at them quickly.
After the game, the students are involved in the post-game discussion. They have an opportunity to ask the varsity officials questions and get answers on game-officiating in real-time. Students complete homework assignments based on the knowledge and experience gained during this valuable moment of practical, hands-on learning. The SSFOA supports any student who wishes to become fully certified to officiate after they complete the course. “We’ll walk them through every step of the process,” says Mr. Simmonds. They even have a program that helps new officials pay for uniforms.
The response among students has been positive. There are 25 students enrolled in the course in its inaugural semester. Emerson Coker is a junior at NTHS and has been a member of the football, basketball, and track and field teams at NTHS. “I joined the sports officiating class to extend my knowledge about sports and to get more involved in the community,” says Coker. “I am also excited about all the opportunities that come along with class, including being able to make money.” Students have the option of taking the course for one or two semesters, and they earn an elective PE credit upon successful completion.
In addition to furthering the goals and outcomes of the school board and the district’s strategic plan, this course originated as a response to a shortage of certified sports officials in youth athletics around the country. “In Thurston County, the shortage has caused local games and contests to be rescheduled and sometimes canceled,” adds Garrow. He hopes this course will be the first of many in the Puget Sound region that help grow the ranks of officials in many sports.
“Officiating is an important part of our ability as a community to offer meaningful education-based athletics to students,” Garrow says. “If we run out of officials, we will not be able to offer sports programs to kids in the future.” North Thurston Public Schools is proud to foster a connection between students, community organizations, and the athletes they support.