BHS girls soccer

A referee (in yellow shirt) watches an October 2019 soccer match as Baker’s Brooklyn Jaca, No. 5, and Maya Smith, No. 6, play against La Grande.

Student-athletes aren’t alone in wanting to get back to competition after seven months of restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Referees have also missed the excitement of a competitive atmosphere.

“The high schools are telling us that they don’t have any games planned (for the fall), but they want us to be prepared, said Brandon Torres of Baker City, who referees high school soccer matches. “It’s difficult to be prepared when you plan out your life.”

When the pandemic started in March, basketball teams, including Baker’s defending state champion girls squad, were preparing for state tournaments.

The cancellation of most tournaments was a shock, said Jack Folliard, executive director of the Oregon Athletics Officials Association.

“And in the spring, sports like softball and baseball were wiped out,” Folliard said.

Torres, who has been a soccer referee for 13 years, immediately felt the effect of the pandemic.

He has refereed high school games for the Oregon School Activities Association, U.S. Soccer (club play) and for younger players.

Torres also likes to play the sport.

“The only sport I really enjoy is soccer, there is a big group of adults that also play, and we couldn’t do that either,” Torres said. “Not being able to referee in the spring for Eastern Oregon soccer league in Union County and not being able to play at the same time, was a big problem.”

In Oregon, referees and officials are labeled as independent contractors. How they end up getting compensated depends on the sport, and what level they are officiating. They are paid by the schools, Folliard said.

“The schools pay a set fee per official, per game,” Folliard said. “It’s a little bit different in each sport, and it is slightly different if it is a 6A school or a 1A school.”

With high school sports potentially resuming in Oregon in January, Folliard has been busy working on plans to keep referees, players and coaches safe.

“We are talking about depending on the sport whether officials will be wearing masks like that we’ve seen sometimes on TV,” Folliard said. “The other issue we are trying to deal with are those sports that require whistles, we are trying to figure out whether that could be done with a regular whistle or an alternative type whistle.”

Referees for the National Football League have been using electronic whistles, which don’t require that they remove their face masks.

Torres said he understands the precautions, but he isn’t overly worried.

“I’m not one of those alarmist people where I think it should run our lives,” Torres said. “If I get it I will stay away from people and get better.”

The effects of the pandemic could exacerbate a problem that has plagued high school athletics for several years, Folliard said: a shortage of referees.

“The numbers have been decreasing for several years, if we lose a lot of officials because of COVID we are going to be in more difficulty getting the games covered,” Folliard said. “We need people to sign up to be an official more so now than ever.”

Torres encourages people interested in officiating to study the sports.

He said he tried to get into refereeing right after high school but stopped soon after, only returning to it years later.

“I had thought because I was a player and I had been playing since I was two years old I knew the rules,” Torres said. “If you are interested, go ahead and pass the test, obviously study the rule book first. Get with a group of referees that are willing to mentor you as an assistant referee.”

The future of high school sports depends on whether students return to in-person classes, at least on some days.

The Baker School District has no timeline for when Baker High School students could resume in-person classes, even on a hybrid basis, with students attending classes at the school on two days per week.

If BHS does start in-person classes, athletes could start practicing Dec. 28 for the winter sports — basketball, wrestling and swimming.

The schedule for the usual fall sports — football, volleyball, soccer and cross-country — would start with practices Feb. 22, and traditional spring sports would start April 19.

Torres said he’s ready to return to the soccer pitch.

“I would be back to my normal routine immediately if that was an option,” Torres said.

Those interested in officiating can learn more at www.newofficials.org

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