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Roger Brown's State of Sports: Officially a numbers issue

By ROGER BROWN
New Hampshire Union Leader

September 17. 2017 8:32PM
Referee Jeff Delois signals a touchdown during Saturday's Pinkerton-Salem game. (Photo by Joe Marchilena)

Officials work the Londonderry versus Nashua North Friday night game at Londonderry High School on Friday. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL in New Hampshire has a problem, one that has nothing to do with head injuries.

Football in the Granite State, like many high school sports across the country, is dealing with a shrinking pool of officials. The New Hampshire Football Officials’ Association is losing quality officials faster than it has been replacing them.

“We could certainly use a few more,” NHFOA commissioner Ernie Clark said.. “Our apprentice program … every year it gets smaller. When I completed the apprentice program in 1978 we had about 20 guys in the class. Now we’re lucky if we have four guys per class — and that’s the number who start the program, not necessarily the number that comes out two years later.

“Most officials used to look at it as an extension of the game. They were people who would probably be coaches, but their careers didn’t allow it so they took to officiating. Officiating was their fraternal organization. I’m not seeing that as much anymore.”

While the number of officials in the NHFOA is a growing concern, Clark said the more immediate issue is the number of “available” officials. He said the demand for officials has grown, partly because so many youth organizations now use certified officials because of liability issues. Officials can often make more per hour working a youth game than a varsity game ($86) or sub-varsity game ($66). That has put some stress on the NHFOA.

“There was a time when guys would do a game on Friday night and another game Saturday,” Clark said. “That’s not always the case anymore. We’re at an all-time low of available officials.

“If football were only played in Manchester, Nashua and the Seacoast we would probably be fine. It’s the outlying areas. The part of the state with lower population.”

According to Clark, the issue hasn’t reached a point where sub-varsity games are canceled because of a lack of officials — at least not often — but Clark said he plans to meet with the state’s directors of athletics next month to discuss ways to deal with the officiating shortage.

“Numbers, age, quality have become factors for us,” he said. “We have to find some younger people with some longevity. The next two years are going to be important for us.”

Anyone interested in becoming a high school football official can learn more about the process at www.nhfoa.net.

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It was a wild weekend of high school football — particularly in Division I — so the Union Leader Power Poll should have a drastically different look when it’s released Tuesday. Five of the 10 teams in last week’s poll absorbed their first loss last weekend. The teams that came up short were No. 1 Bedford, No. 3 Exeter, No. 4 Pinkerton Academy, No. 9 Nashua North and No. 10 Merrimack.

Salem, the No. 2 team in last week’s poll, seems like a strong candidate to move up to No. 1 on the strength of its 35-20 victory over Pinkerton.

Power Poll champions by year: 2008 (Nashua South), 2009 (Bishop Guertin), 2010 (Pinkerton), 2011 (Exeter), 2012 (Exeter), 2013 (Concord), 2014 (Pinkerton), 2015 (Goffstown) and 2016 (Bedford).

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Veteran play-by-play voice Nick Anastos has started Friday Night Lights New Hampshire, an online broadcasting network that provides coverage of high school football in New Hampshire. Fans can listen live to the Game of the Week every Friday night at 7 on their computer or mobile device at www.fnlnh.com.

“We’re starting with football and then we’ll probably transition to basketball and possibly lacrosse in the spring,” Anastos said.

Friday Night Lights New Hampshire also provides a live show every Saturday morning starting at 10 that features interviews with coaches, players, and members of the state’s media.

rbrown@unionleader.com


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