LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - Over the past three seasons, the Texas Association of Sports Officials have seen a dramatic drop off in people signing up to officiate all sports on all levels of UIL competition.
The SFA chapter of TASO is responsible for supplying at least 5 officials for over 20 schools in the Pineywoods.
"Three years ago we had about 120 officials," said Jason Reese, Varsity Assigner for the SFA chapter of TASO. "Right now we are around 70 officials. That is for our varsity and sub-varsity levels. That is a really tight margin."
Forty years ago, Cooper Castleberry was a young man looking to be part of the game he loved.
"My first game was at the old Lufkin stadium in town," Castleberry said. "People often ask why I do it and why I would put up with what comes with it. I really don't know the answer other than I love the game and I love to be on the field with the kids."
Castleberry now travels across the country on Saturdays as one of the premier referees in the Big12 conference. He even was on the field for the 2017 National Championship game that saw the Clemson Tigers beat the University of Alabama in Tampa. Castleberry has admitted the lack off officials is not just in Texas.
"There is a national shortage of officials," Castleberry said. "[It's] not only in football but in all sports so now might be one of the best times to get into officiating. because you can move up faster."
Reese added that because of the shortage, new recruits will see varsity action in their first season.
Lufkin Coach Todd Quick said it is not just football.
"We are seeing it in all of our sports," Quick said. "Our Volleyball officials come from the Brazos Valley and our soccer crews come from Tyler. We are seeing it all over."
TASO requires anyone looking to become a referee to be at least 18 and have an understanding of football. Quick and the Pack will not use the same crew more than twice a season. Quick said it is vital for the crews to understand how much action takes place in 6A football.
"They have to be comfortable enough with the speed and the speed of the game is so much different," Quick said. "You have to be able to see it, recognize it and make the call. You cant be late on a call. It causes problems when you do that so you have to comfortable with the speed."
Reese said one of the biggest things to know is that when you start out with the chapter you might not be seeing John Outlaw Field.
"There is nothing like Friday night lights," Reese said. "There is nothing like getting out on the football field and being part of the action and while everyone wants the big 6A Lufkin game, there are some great smaller schools that to be honest sometimes have better competitive match ups that you might not get in a 6A game."
The pay for a varsity game varies on location. Officials can bring home between $70 and $200 depending on the school.
"You do not get rich off of this," Reese said. "This is something you have to have a passion for and want to do."
The SFA chapter will have an informational meeting for anyone interested in becoming an official on Aug. 5. The meeting will start at 9 am at the Crown Colony Country Club in Lufkin. More more information on becoming a TASO official, click here.