Key West has the finest athletic facilities this side of Miami, but so far this season, its soccer fields have seen little of their scheduled action. Several games set to be played on Key West’s turf fields nicknamed “The Backyard” were instead played at Marathon or Coral Shores due to a lack of officials in the Lower Keys. Key West is not alone in this struggle; finding officials across the islands is becoming problematic for athletic directors, and inevitably it is the student athletes who will suffer if a solution isn’t put in place soon.
Like so many other things in the Keys, a lack of affordable housing is driving this issue to an extent. The longtime officials who have worked the games in Monroe County for many years are getting older, and young folks interested in officiating youth sports are not moving in at the same rate as the exodus.
“The naval base used to have a lot of guys doing some officiating on the side, but that is not the case any more,” said Marathon High School athletic director Lance Martin, explaining that the shortage is a multifaceted issue. “It is very difficult to get new ones due to the low pay and the verbal abuse they take at times from spectators.”
Key West still has a few diehard officials, as do Marathon and the Upper Keys, but more are needed to ensure youth and prep sports can continue in Monroe County. And even though one can’t make a living off of being an official alone in the Keys, the money isn’t terrible for someone who loves sports and is looking for a side gig that allows for staying active and engaged in the community. Football game pay is currently $111 per game. Baseball and softball pay is $85, and volleyball and soccer pay stands at $79. Travel is also reimbursed, and many officials can almost double their pay in travel mileage.
So how does one become an official?
“The process is very easy,” said Martin. “You must be 18 to be a full time official or 16 to be a junior official. First, join an association. Register with the FHSAA. Then do a level 2 background check. Then take the 50-question, untimed, open-book test offered prior to the fall, winter and spring seasons.” Prospective officials have a set window in which to complete their tests prior to each season.
To find all the contacts for the various sports offered in Monroe County, visit the FHSAA website at fhsaa.com/sports/2020/5/19/officials_directory.aspx.