RefReps Offers a Comprehensive Online Education in Officiating
Writer / Ryan Kennedy
There is a massive shortage of sports officials across all sports, from youth leagues all the way up to the NCAA.
It’s a problem that grows worse each year. Fifty years ago the average age of a sports official was 24 years old. Today the average age is 57 years old.
Mark Baltz, who began an officiating career of more than three decades officiating gym class while his teacher read the newspaper, blames the shortage on two factors.
The COVID-19 pandemic drove many officials into retirement, creating an initial shortage. The shortage was compounded by a large influx of younger officials. Kids getting involved in officiating at a young age were quickly driven back out of it because of ill-behaved parents, bad sportsmanship and poor pay. “Kids say, ‘I don’t need to do this crap,’ and so they got out of it,” Baltz says.
Baltz teamed up with Kyle Armstrong, who got his start refereeing intramural basketball, and began building out an idea they’d been thinking about for a dozen years. “Kyle and I have been together in this space for a long time, but we knew it was going to be bad coming out of COVID,” Baltz says. “So during COVID when nobody was playing anything, we spent most of our time developing this online education system and the curriculum too, because we knew people would be demanding officials and there’d be a huge shortage.”
Armstrong and Baltz hit the ground running. They started with developing a baseball officiating class. The response from focus groups was positive. They added a football class, then a basketball class, and before long they had enough courses to combine them into a single educational course.
RefReps was born.
RefReps is an educational tool consisting of comprehensive officiating courses, including interactive training videos. Complete with instructor guides, support materials, assessments and videos, RefReps uses modern education techniques to teach the fundamentals of officiating, whether it be high school and college or other organizations.
RefReps’ innovative, point-of-view video trainings allow learners to see the game through the eyes of officials, providing an opportunity to practically apply key concepts and build confidence, without ever having to step out onto the field, course or mat.
Today the course consists of 15 different sports, and is taught in 400 high schools in 30 states and around the world. RefReps is partnered with the National Federation of State High School Associations, as well as state associations from around the country. The RefReps leaders are working to develop partnerships with professional leagues like the NBA and NFL.
The founders set out to address the officiating shortage, but it’s had the added effect of giving younger kids an opportunity, teaching them a new trade in an educational environment, and an opportunity for a real paying job.
“At the end of six or eight weeks of that class, they immediately can go out and make money,” Baltz says. “They don’t have to get a college degree. They don’t have to do an apprenticeship program. They’re done. They go get licensed and they get started making money.”