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Gage Conner talks with an official after a call as the Loris High School Lions prepare for the season in a scrimmage with Myrtle Beach in 2019. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

The shell game of scheduling officials across the South Carolina High School League has reached football unlike ever before.

Much like basketball, soccer and volleyball before it, the SCHSL, referees and varsity football programs are preparing to feel that crunch.

By the end of next week, schools could be informed the state simply doesn’t have enough certified officials to handle varsity games for the season openers on Aug. 20, meaning volunteers will be sought out to move contests off that and possibly subsequent Fridays to alleviate the depleted roster.

If volunteers don’t come forward, the SCHSL will make those decisions as needed.

“I don’t think it’s a panic button anymore. We’re in the panic,” SCHSL Assistant Commissioner Charlie Wentzky said Monday. “There’s a good chance that we’re going to call schools and say, ‘If you don’t move your game to Thursday or Saturday, we may not be able to play.’”

Although the numbers from last weekend’s testing and certification have not been finalized, Wentzky estimated that his numbers for varsity-level officials will be down somewhere from 10-15% from 2019. Last season, the SCHSL — which handles the scheduling for varsity football — was actually helped by the large number of games canceled due to COVID-19. The SCHSL only had to move five games due to the officials shortage.

However, assuming there will be fewer pandemic-related cancellations this fall, it puts even more pressure on everyone to work toward a more feasible solution.

The stop-gap is shifting officials around from district to district on Friday evenings. For District 11, which comprises the Grand Strand and greater Pee Dee, there are believed to be as few as six varsity certified white hats, or crew chiefs (again, those numbers haven’t been finalized). On Friday, Oct. 8, for instance, there are five home games in Horry County alone and several more between Florence, Georgetown and the other surrounding counties.

Even with transfers, there are only so many officials to go around. This is a trend, and one that isn’t relegated to the Palmetto State.

“The only thing [I think ] would be to do more advertising,” said Keith Hajnal, the District 11 football officials director. “I got a call today and he wants to do games this year. But we’ve already done all the testing and classes. … It’s a national shortage. We’re just aging out. We’re getting old, and kids aren’t doing it anymore.”

Much like Jake Rosiek — Hajnal’s counterpart for District 11 basketball officials — has said over recent years, the influx of younger officials has decreased significantly. Twenty- and 30-somethings are not joining the ranks, and even some of the experienced transfers from other states aren’t sticking around that long.

Wentzky pointed to an issue well-documented by National Federation of High Schools’ and statewide surveys.

Verbal abuse.

For many, the side hustle as an official isn’t worth the hassle. 

“Our member schools need to step up and say, ‘We’re not going to let you treat these folks this way,’” he said. “It’s really hard when you get down to the rec levels. You can’t treat people any way you want, regardless of what their position is — especially when they’re there to be the non-partisan group.

“We’ve got to treat these folks with a little more respect than we are. When you go to a Pee Wee game and you see them getting blasted, that’s our future. If we’re running them off at those levels, we’re not re-capturing them.”

NO LONG WAIT FOR SCRIMMAGES

Football practices in South Carolina started last week, and Wednesday marks the opening day of full-pad drills.

By Thursday, most of the area will be participating in outside scrimmages.

It continues the bang-bang feel of fall camps as teams have three weeks from the start of practices to their first regular-season games. 

This year, SCHSL teams are allowed two full scrimmages and then one jamboree-style event, which will be marked locally by the CNB Kickoff Classic at Coastal Carolina’s Brooks Stadium on Aug. 13.

The following Horry County scrimmages were declared by coaches from one or both teams.

THURSDAY, AUG. 5

Myrtle Beach at Loris, 6:30 p.m.

Socastee at Lamar, 6 p.m.

Marion at Aynor, 6 p.m.

Andrews at St. James, 6 p.m.

Conway at Summerville

MONDAY, AUG. 9

Wando at Myrtle Beach, 6:30 p.m.

St. James at Green Sea Floyds, 6:30 p.m.

Loris at Carvers Bay, 6:30 p.m.

Aynor at Hannah-Pamplico

Ashley Ridge at Conway 

FRIDAY, AUG. 13

CNB Kickoff Classic (at CCU), 6 p.m.

Myrtle Beach vs. St. James

Loris vs. Carolina Forest

Green Sea Floyds vs. Waccamaw

North Myrtle Beach vs. Socastee

Aynor vs. Conway

Contact Charles D. Perry at 843-488-7236

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