With just a little over 1,600 officials in South Dakota, the state’s referee shortage continues to be a pressing issue, and with the existing pool of officials continuing to age, the SDHSAA saw a need to get younger people involved in officiating. Recognizing a potential in college students, the SDHSAA contacted USD, specifically the Division of Kinesiology & Sport Management (KSM), to collaborate on implementing training courses for students.

“We’re trying to get younger people involved in officiating, and being able to talk to a couple of the classes in the KSM division here at USD was a great opportunity for us to get in front of about 150 students and share a little bit more about officiating,” said Jo Auch, assistant executive director at SDHSAA. “Almost everyone in the class was involved in athletics in some way, shape or form, so it was a great opportunity to see if we could get them to continue on with that effort to officiate.”

USD is the only South Dakota higher education institution selected to partner with SDHSAA. The unique program not only addresses the shortage but it also gives USD students a chance to earn college credits.

In the spring 2024 semester, students across campus can enroll in two different two-credit, hybrid courses: officiating volleyball and officiating football. Upon completing the course, students will have the opportunity to officiate real high school and club sports events, providing them practical, hands-on application of their training while allowing them to earn extra income.

“It’s a great opportunity for students to earn money while they’re in college,” said Jessie Daw, chair of the KSM division. “They can set their own schedule, the pay is really good, and they can start to develop skills like decision making and managing conflict that they can put on their resume.”

The program uses the RefReps Officiating Education System, an online education platform that employs virtual reality-like scenarios, to allow students to engage in decision-making processes and make referee calls in simulated situations. For the in-person aspect of the course, instructors plan to invite experienced officials from across the state to discuss topics like handling conflict and managing coaches, players and games with students, extending beyond rules and mechanics.

Belinda Miller, a retired educator and certified volleyball official, emphasized the comprehensive nature of the training. “It’s hybrid, with some online learning, face-to-face sessions and hands-on experiences where student are actually officiating and working through different positions and also observing and evaluating others to learn the game.”

By integrating classroom education, hands-on experiences and cutting-edge technology, the partnership between USD and the SDHSAA is not only tackling a statewide challenge but is also equipping students with invaluable skillsets.

“This program allows students to get out into the community and learn skills they wouldn’t get other places," said Connor Singhisen, assistant director of Intramurals & Sports Clubs. "If you look at the National Association of Colleges’ Employers, conflict resolution and problem solving are two of their top skills. Officiating is a great place to learn those skills at a younger age.

“Students also learn how to communicate with people more effectively and have some of those difficult conversations that they might not have just going to school or working at another job on campus,” Singhisen continued. “These skills are very transferable. Whether you’re a nurse, a teacher, or a CEO, you need to know how to manage people, how to communicate and how to deal with conflict.”

“With the shortage of officials, we have the opportunity to have kids with some fresh legs and a desire to be involved in something that is a lifetime skill and can be taken anywhere,” said Auch. “It doesn't matter if their career takes them to Minnesota or Iowa or anywhere else, the rulebook is the same. Officiating is a lifelong skill that they can continue to earn some extra income and have a flexible schedule, so we really just want to show them how good an officiating career can be.”

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