Key West has the best athletic facilities this side of Miami, but its soccer fields have seen little of the scheduled action so far this season. Several games that would have been played on Key West grass fields nicknamed “The Backyard” were instead played in Marathon or Coral Shores due to a lack of officials in the Lower Keys. Key West is not alone in this fight; finding officials all over the islands is becoming problematic for athletic directors, and inevitably it’s the student athletes who suffer if a solution isn’t put in place soon.
Like so much else in the Keys, the lack of affordable housing is driving this problem to a greater extent. Longtime officials who worked many years at games in Monroe County are aging, and young people interested in umpiring youth sports aren’t moving at the same pace as the exodus.
“The naval base used to have a lot of guys umpiring outfield, but that’s not the case anymore,” said Marathon High School athletic director Lance Martin, explaining that the shortage is a multifaceted problem. “It’s very difficult to get new ones because of the low pay and the verbal abuse they sometimes get from viewers.”
Key West still has some hard-core officials, as do Marathon and the Upper Keys, but more are needed to ensure youth and prep sports can continue in Monroe County. And while you can’t make a living civilizing yourself in the Keys, the money isn’t terrible for someone who loves sports and is looking for a side job that allows them to stay active and engaged in the community. Pay for football games is currently $111 per game. Baseball and softball pay is $85, and volleyball and soccer pay is $79. Travel is also reimbursed, and many officials can nearly double their pay in travel miles.
So how do you become an official?
“The process is very simple,” Martin said. “You must be 18 to be a full-time officer or 16 to be a junior officer. First, join an association. Register with the FHSAA. Then take a Level 2 background check. Then take the 50-question, untimed, open-book test offered before the fall, winter, and spring seasons. Prospective officials have a fixed window in which to complete tests before each season.
To find all contact details for the various sports offered in Monroe County, visit the FHSAA website at fhsaa.com/sports/2020/5/19/officials_directory.aspx.