Nationwide shortage of football referees pushes games to Thursday nights

October 21, 2021 — by Apurva Chakravarthy and Nilay Mishra
The Falcons had a large crowd on a Friday night for Homecoming (pictured here), but few fans have shown up for the team’s Thursday night contests.
Coaches and students reflect on how playing on a weekday affects game performance, sleep and attendance.

This season, the football team had three Thursday games on its schedule, which were played against Willow Glen, Westmont and Los Altos, the last of which took place on Oct. 14.

The reason for Thursday games is a nationwide lack of available referees that has trickled down to impact local Bay Area teams. According to athletic director Rick Ellis, the school uses a sports activities management system called ArbiterSports to find referees for games. After inputting the school’s schedule, the system locates available referees — football requires five for each game — but the system has failed to find enough for traditional Friday games this fall.

“It’s been affecting every school,” Ellis said. “Everybody’s been asked to do their part and reschedule their games.”

Ellis believes that the lack of referees has to do with the tradeoff of traveling to distant games and spending evenings in a part-time job for a relatively low pay. Referees are paid about $70-$90 for Bay Area high school games that last about two hours.

“If you live in San Jose and have to travel to San Mateo for a game, you spend two hours traveling there and back, so you are effectively paid $45 an hour,” Ellis said. ”That doesn’t look so attractive anymore.”

The sports most affected by the lack of properly trained referees are football and volleyball, Ellis said. Head football coach Tim Lugo believes the nationwide shortage of referees stems primarily from the effects of a recovering economy.

Additionally, many referees from previous years have retired, and are being replaced with newer, less-experienced referees who are still learning how to do the job effectively, Lugo said. 

Since referees were not available for Friday night games, the football team was given a choice between playing on Saturday nights or Thursday nights. Lugo and the team prefered playing on Thursday nights, despite it being a weekday. This is a sentiment shared by the majority of the rest of the teams in the league as well, and has led to the team playing on Thursday nights instead of Saturday evenings.

“It’s a choice between two bad options,” Lugo said. “If you play on Saturday night, there’s no time to rest your body before practices resume on Monday — we tried this in the spring, and it didn’t work out well.” With Thursday nights’ games, however, the team would simply cancel Friday’s practice.

Lugo believes that Thursday night football was harder for schools such as Saratoga, Monta Vista and Lynbrook because they are highly academic. Students often returned from the games late at night and scrambled to finish their demanding schoolwork and other activities.

The varsity team must be ready for the pregame stretch at 5:45 p.m., and many arrive as early as 4:30 pm. With the game itself lasting several hours, it consumes the majority of the day for most players. The players come home at 10 p.m. and still need to eat dinner and finish their homework before school the next day.  

This problem was exacerbated with away games, such as the match against Westmont on Sept. 9, as the team needed to take a bus to and from the opposing school.

“When we only planned for the Westmont game to be on Thursday, we thought we would just ride it out,” Lugo said. “With Willow Glen and Los Altos also moving to Thursday, it became tough.”

However, the football players are not the only ones affected by Thursday night games. Members of the cheer team, dance team and marching band have had to readjust their schedules to fit the new timeline, and they too faced the challenge of having homework or tests to think about even as they performed.

Senior drum major Ryan Lee said one of the main adjustments the marching band had to make was the removal of Thursday night rehearsals, which traditionally happen every week from 6-9 p.m. Instead, on the weeks with Thursday night games, the band hosted their long rehearsals on Friday evenings. 

According to Lee, the band pushed through the Thursday games, but seniors specifically found the schedule to be irritating, especially with the stress of college applications. 

Even though band members are used to already committing a large part of their Thursday night to the band, performing at games posed a larger time commitment. 

“Flipping the time commitments where the larger time is on Thursday was hard because if you were not finished with all your Friday work, [the workload] became tedious when you got home, which was a hard transition,” Lee said. 

Playing on Thursday nights also has meant that a significantly smaller crowd showing up to watch the games, which has hurt the team’s performance, senior team captain and wide receiver Parsa Hashemi said. For Thursday games, the team has not felt the energy and excitement that they would normally feel on Friday night football.

The Falcons lost all three of the Thursday night games: 48-14 to Westmont, 14-0 to Willow Glen and forfeiting to Los Altos at halftime with a score of 28-0 because of an injury and the possibility of more injuries to a small team already beset by injuries.

Junior lineman Lonnie Gaskin broke both bones in his left leg and went to the hospital in an ambulance. Hashemi was also unable to play due to his hamstring injury. In general, the team was outmatched for the larger, stronger Los Altos team. 

“It’s really demoralizing to play Thursday night games because the crowd wasn’t there to cheer you on,” Hashemi said. “After having such an electric crowd at Homecoming, having to play with a dead silent audience really puts a damper on the whole night.”

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