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Costs to Officiate Add Up

Preps: Would-be referees and umpires must pay for their equipment and clothing as well as travel expenses.

April 06, 1999|PAUL McLEOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Becoming a referee isn't cheap, and that in itself scares off a lot of potential recruits. Those who stick around often spend most of their rookie season working just to make up the upfront costs.

A baseball umpire must spend about $500 on a chest protector, steel-toed shoes, shin guards and a face mask.

Basketball officials need two pairs of slacks, black shoes, a couple of striped shirts, a black bag and an official's jacket before blowing the whistle.

That whistle, by the way, costs $5.

A soccer referee might not look as if he needs much equipment, but he's supposed to carry three different colored shirts and a pair of whistles with different pitches, black shoes and a couple pair of striped socks.

Don't forget the sunscreen.

"It's very expensive and you have to get the best, proper equipment," said Frank Lerner, an umpire and basketball and baseball assigner. "And you should get the best equipment. You need more protection than ever, because if you get hurt, you are out. There's no workers' compensation protection. You are an independent contractor."

Officials must pay association dues of $60-$75 per sport. They must also pay their assigner $1-$3 per game.

"Is a guy going to come out and do five or 10 games, have to pay $60 and [endure] 18 hours of instruction? It's not worth it," said Marina High soccer Coach Tom Freker, who used to be an assigner.

Laundry and uniform upkeep must also be factored in. Referee trainers stress that looking the part is half the battle when stepping on the field. Officials good enough to be assigned to a playoff game will probably be required to wear a coat and tie to the site and arrive hours before game time to review rules.

"Some people think that you just put on the whistle and go out on the floor," longtime referee Speed Castillo said. "Well, it's not that easy."

Neither is staying alert for the nine to 18 hours per sport of unpaid recertification courses, required by the state. Some sports, such as soccer, require a physical test that includes running obstacle courses and jogging around a track for 15 minutes.

A passing grade is 80% or better on a 100-question multiple choice exam at the end of the course. Those who fail the tests are usually permitted to retake them until they pass. Here's the good news: These days, everyone passes. But no wonder that a lot of people never get that far.

"There's this intimidation factor. The hardest thing to do is to get new referees out to the first meeting," basketball assigner Rich Kollen said.

Did we mention extra insurance? Officials groups usually provide a blanket policy for injury or liability protection, but often that isn't enough.

"When I started we just had to buy our uniforms, now we have to buy extra insurance just to protect us from getting sued," said Southern Section Commissioner Dean Crowley, a longtime official.

Cost? About $70 a season, Crowley said.

Finally, officials are responsible for paying for transportation to and from events. In sparsely populated areas of the Southern Section, officials could be forced to travel a couple hours to work a game.

"The bottom line is, the men and women who do this put a lot of time and effort into it," Crowley said.

And their own money.

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