I can't imagine ever losing the argument that Wrestling officials have it tougher than any other sport. This and other reasons seem to be developing a problem across all levels of officiating in the United States, the overwhelming lack of young officials.
Once in awhile Kevin and myself (Tommy) will mention high school officiating. While we do a podcast and website about college and international wrestling we don't try to say we know everything about officiating. I reffed youth Freestyle starting when I was 14. Throughout high school I would grow as an official and be able to do higher levels. I then was able to do a couple seasons of high school wrestling before I joined the Army. After the Army I coached for six years, but then due to changes with my job I no longer was able to put in the time commitment for coaching. I gladly threw back on the stripes and have been ever since.
I thoroughly enjoy officiating. Even as an athlete in college, it was a hell of a way to make $200-400 a week without working a real job. Most jobs open to 18-21 year-olds make very little hourly and I was able to rake in money doing something enjoyable. Sure some coaches rode me a bit, and you aren't going to be great at first. I liked the challenge though. It's something to work at and get better as you go. Now over a decade later I'm working as part of a small, growing company many hours and reffing is a great break from my day to day responsibilities. The extra money is still amazing too. You get used to budgeting what you normally make and then all the sudden you're cashing a bunch of checks you don't count on. I mean...who doesn't like extra money?
Outside of the supplemental income, I have fun with it. It's challenging, you build relationships with coaches & kids, and just get put in some interesting spots. Some may find it odd that on a Wednesday night I'm looking forward to reffing a dual where every call will be jeered by sometimes over a thousand people, but I love it. There's also some great camaraderie among the refs. Often I'm having a beer and a burger at the pub in whatever town I'm in that day after the event discussing interesting calls and sharing crazy stories. I really appreciate the different areas, different scenery, and the new experiences.
Somehow it's tough to find officials and therefore the average age of high school and college officials is getting to a critical spot. It's good exercise to ref an all-day tournament and how I feel sometimes getting tired at 32 I have no idea how the 62 year-old guys do it. Even as I am not the young guy in college anymore it's still very often I am the youngest guy on the crew at events throughout the year.
We need to do a better job of recruiting and retaining officials. It takes awhile to get good at it, and it's also very intimidating. While in football and baseball the coach giving you an earful may be over 100 ft away, in wrestling Tom Brands is practically in your back pocket. While you can chirp at me all you want (mat time gives me that luxury), there are better ways of going after young officials. We need that kid. Tell him later (calmly) where you disagreed with the judgement call. It's usually better if you tell the senior official of the event what you saw. We are constantly watching the younger (or new, never too late to start) official as much as possible but we do have our own matches to worry about.
If you're reading this and you aren't a coach or currently have a kid in high school, try to ref. You'll probably enjoy it a lot more than you think you would. We need refs. We certainly need younger refs (look at the age of the officials at the next event you're at). Get out there and ref! The sport needs it. I wish I had the time to coach still, but by reffing I get to stay involved and help the best sport in the history of man.
Hope to see you out there,