As president of the Waco chapter of the Texas Association of Sports Officials, Brad Strickland is sending out a three-pronged message to potential and current football refs.
1. Come join us, 2. Stay ready, and 3. Wait and see.
On Monday, the TASO Waco Chapter will begin summer training of new football officials through the McLennan Community College continuing education department. The training sessions will be held on Mondays for the rest of June. This year, most of the training will take place in online meetings, though Strickland said he is hoping to get on a field somewhere in Central Texas so the new recruits can get a real-world feel for the material they’re covering.
“With new members our primary focus is on mechanics,” Strickland said. “This is the umpire. This is the line judge. This is the head linesman. These are the requirements. This is what they’re looking for. You have keys. We start teaching them about keys, pre-snap keys, who you focus on once it’s snapped. There’s a progression you go through.”
While the summer program is not mandatory for potential new officials to complete before the season begins in August, Strickland said it helps rookies know what they’re doing and ultimately leads to better retention of refs.
At the moment, keeping officials and bringing in new ones is crucial.
Strickland said the Waco chapter normally has between 100 and 115 football officials, which indicates a shortage because ideally it would have a roster of about 150.
With ambiguity surrounding the coming football season due to the nation’s response to the coronavirus, there’s even more emphasis on the need to recruit new football refs.
“It’s one of those out-of-sight-out-of-mind things,” Strickland said. “A lot of (current baseball, softball and basketball officials) haven’t been able to do anything. They depend on that extra income. Some of those guys have gone out and gotten other part-time jobs. Are they going to come back and do football? It’s still a wait and see.”
The June football officials training could give Strickland some idea of where the recruiting process stands.
He said he has struggled to get basketball referees interested in picking up football officiating. Gridiron officiating crews require more people and more time and all of that makes it more difficult to keep up good participation numbers.
However, there are success stories.
Two years ago, former longtime college assistant coach Larry Hoefer and his son Robert Hoefer went through the MCC summer training program and then joined football officiating crews.
Larry Hoefer, 70, coached at Texas Tech, Baylor and Rice among other stops during his 40-year coaching career. Robert Hoefer, 35, played defensive back and special teams at Baylor and then went into coaching at the high school level in Central Texas after college.
Now the Hoefers have converted to an officiating family.
“It opened my eyes to a whole other side of the game,” Robert Hoefer said. “It’s a whole other dynamic. My dad and I used to watch games and we would watch formations and who’s in and who’s out. Now we’re watching where the head linesman is positioned in the red zone.”
Robert Hoefer said he doesn’t see a lot of safety concerns related to the coronavirus in football officiating.
“You’re trained to keep your distance away from players,” he said. “This year, I’m going to be a line judge and you’re always saying, ‘Get back. Get back.’”
Like a lot of football people, Robert Hoefer is optimistic that the upcoming season goes on as scheduled.
“Hopefully this passes through and we get to have a season,” he said. “(Officiating is) really fun. It’s camaraderie. And you stay in shape because high school kids are faster than you are when you’re 35.”
Strickland said he’s telling his officials to be in shape and prepared for the high school football season to begin as scheduled in August.
To him, that’s not just wishful thinking.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to be up for delaying football,” Strickland said. “It’s definitely beyond my authority as far as keeping things safe. In the end, people will be expecting to watch football. The other thing is I think the nation will need football. I think we’re seeing right now that the nation needs something to bring everybody together.”
For more information on joining the TASO Waco chapter and the upcoming football officials training, contact Strickland at 214-869-8355 or Bradstrickland1969@gmail.com.