JIM PETERS: Region wrestling in dire need of officials

2014-04-10T17:00:00Z 2014-04-10T22:52:09Z JIM PETERS: Region wrestling in dire need of officialsJim Peters Times Columnist nwitimes.com
April 10, 2014 5:00 pm  • 

If you're a region wrestling fan and you think you've seen a lot of the same faces officiating matches, you're right.

With a pool of officials graying and dwindling, newcomers scarce in number and the sport still growing in interest, it is nearing sudden death overtime in Northwest Indiana.

"December 13, I'm looking at not having enough officials to go around," said Chuck Barnett, who handles local meet assignments. "We're going to be behind the eight ball."

Barnett is 53, which was the average age of officials at the state finals. He has been licensed since he was 19. Tom Lambert is 71 and still going strong. John Todd, 77, is a few years removed from a heart attack, yet still does matches.

"Tom and I spend nine of our 11 Saturdays together (during the season)," Barnett said. "At some point, it's got to come to an end."

On April 22, Merrillville High School will host a meeting aimed at generating interest in officiating among the younger generation.

"Wrestling needs help," said Merrillville Assistant Athletic Director Amy Beckham, who has coordinated the semistate for 17 years. "Good, young officials are few and far between. Either they get into coaching or they quit all together. It's sad. Our area is so strong in the sport. Look at the showing we have every year at state. The kids deserve good officiating."

There are about 400 licensed wrestling officials in the state, compared to roughly 4,000 for basketball, with a particular dearth in our part of the state. In the last three years, region ranks have diminished by 19, according to Barnett. Administrators have seen the problem developing and have been soliciting interest at larger meets. The SOS was sent out to every school in the semistate.

"Wrestling's a little different than other sports," Beckham said. "It's not to say you have to be an ex-wrestler, but typically it's somebody who has been around wrestling, who was a wrestler themselves."

Barnett encourages anyone even the least bit intrigued to attend the meeting. Once interest is gauged, they will move forward with those who express the desire.

"We've just got to know where we're starting from," Barnett said.

Many people he talks to are intimidated by the idea of officiating in a large, pressure-filled venue. The reality is, most work lies elsewhere, including youth tournaments and middle school meets.

"They're like, 'Man, you guys take a beating,'" Barnett said. "You're pretty much in a take-charge position, and a lot of kids shy away from that. It is a demanding sport. You run around, you're up, down, up, down. If you want to work up quickly, you can, but you're never forced to do a level of match you don't want to do. It's as competitive as you want to make it. We're not going to throw you in there to get killed."

Like Beckham, Barnett believes the resources must be tapped from within.

"It's a sport where they come back," Beckham said. "The semistate's like a reunion of ours. Now we've got to try to get them out there."

Hanover Central graduate Brandon Ward is a promising up-and-comer. Crown Point product David Vlink, now an Indianapolis-based attorney, is a licensed official, as is Jerry Mohamed, whose son Nick wrestled for the Bulldogs.

Officials can make from $35 for a middle school meet, two of which covers the cost of a license, to a couple hundred bucks working a Saturday tournament. Schools like Calumet have offered to subsidize the first five alumni who attend the meeting and apply for a license.

Barnett would consider the meeting a success if 20 people show up.

"Obviously, you get in free, you get free food and you get the best seat in the house," he said. "It's good pocket change. If you like the sport, get back involved."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at james.peters@nwi.com.

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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