HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Any given night in the Tennessee Valley, you’re likely to see sports fields lit up and packed with fans. But, in order to play those games, you have to have an official, and many areas have been struggling to find them.

High school sports are a huge deal to not only the students that play them but also to their families and friends. If you’ve ever been to a game, you know how passionate these fans can be, and sometimes officials can get the ‘not-so-nice’ side of that passion.

In Huntsville and all across the nation, there has been a shortage of officials since COVID-19 halted everything.

“We lost numbers then, and some of those officials haven’t come back, and that’s been the lasting effect on it,” Huntsville Sports Commission Executive Director Mark Russell told News 19.

Three years later, that shortage still exists partly due to the lack of respect between players, fans, coaches and officials.

“We got to do a better job, coaches need to respect the officials,” Russell said, “The fans need to understand that we’re human and treat us how they would want to be treated. We just need to enjoy the game more.”

The love of the game is what keeps Russell coming back after over 20 years of serving as an official.

Even now, the work is starting up to get officials prepped for football season in the fall.

“We’ll watch video, we’ll discuss rules, we have to take two tests and make a certain amount of grades on those tests and we get evaluated during the season,” Russell added.

All season long, coaches are allowed to review film and send it in to the head officials to be evaluated. This can help keep everyone accountable and ensure as many plays get called correctly.

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But if more people don’t step up to the plate, there may be immediate effects next year. Games could get moved or canceled if there are not enough officials.

“That has happened a lot in baseball this season… They’ve had to move games to when officials are available,” Russell said. “We want the kids to play on the night that’s best for them.”

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