Now Hiring: Officials

A look into the desperate need of officiants for youth athletic events.


Student, Ellie Wagner, officiating a youth soccer game.

It takes a special kind of person to have the confidence and the correct mentality to referee a youth sporting event, and the number of people willing is dwindling. 

For student Ellie Wagner refereeing youth soccer is her hobby and job. As one of the few inclined to take on the task, she is often scheduled for six to seven different games every weekend. She loves this line of work, but she does often experience the wrath of spectators on the sidelines. 

“I like to work with the kids, and it pays really well. It is fun to see how far the kids grow,” said Wagner, “Normally it’s the parents that are the worst.” 

Now Ellie is a sophomore in high school and hears criticism from spectators who are decades older than her, but the disrespectful comments are still made to adults. Brian Pribnow, an adult referee of high school football and basketball, continuously has harsh statements thrown in his direction. 

“I’ve been called names, yelled at, and disrespected,” said Pribnow, “It is a part of the gig. You have to have thick skin.”

The verbal abuse often seen and experienced during sporting events drives people out of this profession, and few people are interested in starting the officiating journey. This has led to an overall shortage of youth officials, which has even led to a noticeable increase in canceled games. 

“I have noticed cancellations as a parent in softball and baseball,” said Pribnow, “Sometimes there is only one ref for the entire game.”

Officiants Wagner and Pribnow receive schedules from assignors, and most often choose when they want to work. Wagner often gets asked by her assignor to work games that no one else can, leading to a busy schedule. 

As frustrating as rude comments can be, the job can be rewarding and enjoyable to many. It can be a good social activity, a way to constantly watch sports, and a way to get paid running right next to quality athletics.

Adults who do this on the side enjoy, “Staying active, officiating with some of your buddies, and the extra money,” stated Pribnow. 

Some referees or umpires are getting to be extremely busy, sometimes by choice or because there is a desperate need for them on the playing field. Wagner highly suggests for teens to look into youth refereeing as a way to make some extra cash and help out some young teams trying to get some game experience. 

Her advice to newbies is to, “Be confident, know that you are the top person and are in charge,” Wagner said. “Be respectful and always have a smile on your face.” 

The first step to helping the shortage of officiants in Nebraska is to look into associations that provide training and good advice. Pribnow recommends PSOA, Premier Sports Officials Association, as a great start to getting into this gig. 

“Remember, it is okay to make a mistake as an official…just own up to it and admit it,” said Pribnow. “However, there are no make-up calls!”

Wagner checking in a youth soccer team for an upcoming game.