IMPERIAL COUNTY, Calif. (KYMA, KECY) - Youth sports participation has never been higher in the Imperial Valley.
New sports are garnering more and more kids to come out and play.
But there is one problem that could soon limit the games we love so much.
Youth and interscholastic athletics are a vital part of the Imperial Valley and their communities.
Small towns rallying behind the loved ones bringing everyone together.
But issues that began to surface at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic have still remained and look to threaten the future of competition in the Imperial Valley.
"Everyone has a responsibility on the field, every play… Every play everyone has a responsibility so it's just a reminder of what your responsibility is," said John Seamen, Imperial Valley Football Officials Association.
The Valley is currently facing a referee shortage that has seen deep ramifications just this year alone.
From playing games on Thursday nights to decreasing the number of officials sent out to the games.
The Imperial Valley Football Officials Association is in desperate need of new recruits.
Though that might be easier said than done.
"It's difficult to recruit referees… Nobody likes to get chewed out… As an official no matter the sport, you have to have a thick skin somewhat but there's a point where a line that shouldn't be crossed and it seems more and more as if that line is getting crossed and it makes it hard even if we recruit officials to retain those officials," stated Alan Phillips, Imperial Valley Football Officials Association.
Both John Seamen and Alan Phillips have nearly 70 years of officiating experience, with Seamen even officiating at the junior college level.
Both men also have deep ties to the Valley which is why they care deeply about the future of interscholastic competition for our area.
Seamen knows that keeping referees is a challenge in and of itself but that it's important to be open to anyone wanting to put on the uniform.
"I think when people see how much commitment it is to be a referee and how hard it is they don't come back… And there's nothing wrong with that… At least they go to see what it is," expressed Seamen.
Coaches and administrators from across the Imperial Valley are also feeling the pinch of dwindling officials.
Central Union Head Coach David "Rookie" Peña had three games played on Thursdays because of the referee shortage.
Besides game planning, he says the number one priority he has is the health and safety of his players.
"We don't do as much hitting… Obviously, that cuts out one less day of hitting. We understand that we have to take care of our kids' bodies. Moving forward we make sure we shorten down certain segments and understand that those segments will turn now into more of a teaching segment… So it lessens our timeframe… It's very tight and we make adjustments as we need," stated Peña, Central Union Football Head Coach.
Billy Brewer from Brawley Union High School says that keeping a rapport with officials is important to ensure that all student-athletes get a chance to play.
"We appreciate the referees and the association. They do everything they can do to take care of every game in the Imperial Valley. I think all of us from the officials association to athletic directors to parents need to encourage people to come out and get involved," said Billy Brewer, Brawley Union High School Athletic Director.
Both Seamen and Phillips know that if this trend continues, it will be to the detriment of all youth sports.
It'll take a collective effort, but it's one that communities from all over the Valley can rally behind.