“It’s the best part-time job I ever had,” Jason Palmer declared. He started officiating in 2008 after nearly 20 years coaching basketball and softball in the Chicago area. “I never had done it before. I did some research to see which sport needed the most officials and paid the best money,” Palmer said. “I noticed that volleyball tends to pay more than the other sports.”
Club volleyball season is now underway, and according to Palmer, “There’s money to be made. We make $30 a match in club volleyball.
“Volleyball officials on most weekends who do the club scene can make $600 a weekend. You can do that from January all the way into July.”
As a result, an individual can “increase your income dramatically to go along with your career job,” said Palmer, who is also associate editor of Referee Magazine. “That’s the main selling point that we need to get across” in recruiting more officials, he noted.
“There is a shortage [of officials] in all sports, but definitely [in] the non-traditional sports in our community.
“We have to get out of this mentality in our community that if you want to referee, you can only do football, basketball and baseball. There’s a whole bunch of sports. We have to change that mentality,” Palmer said.
Jim Robinson offered yet another explanation for the shortage of officials: “I think the main reason is [the individual] being able to accept criticism that fans would give them.” A longtime local Black official and now the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) state coordinator of officials, Robinson told me this before a women’s basketball game last month.
He added that he is often bothered that more Black officials work AAU summer games [rather than high school], mainly because “it’s an instant paycheck for them. That means I can put on a shirt and referee on the weekend and make maybe $200.”
Getting similarly paid “if you’re working at the high school [level], that’s not going to happen, because we look for [persons who] are more seasoned” as officials.
Palmer mostly works volleyball and water polo. “I stopped doing basketball a couple of years ago because my knees were bothering me,” he said. “Volleyball is less stressful on the body. It is mentally demanding but not physically demanding. We have volleyball officials who are well into their 70s and are still very good.”
Both Robinson and Palmer stressed the importance of patience and paying one’s dues, as well as there being no substitute for experience.
“We don’t have a timeline in officials” moving up from youth level to high school, and possibly on to college and pros, Robinson said. “You certainly have to have the experience to get there.”
“You have to take the job seriously and look at it as a professional job,” Palmer added. “You need to hone your skills.”
Anyone interested in officiating locally can go to the MSHSL.org website, click on “Officials/Judges,” then “Becoming an official,” and fill out a short form on line. “Sign up, pass the background check, and pay your fee to the state [association],” Palmer advised.
“There are opportunities all over the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. I think we have to open up our minds and look for these opportunities.”
“There is a need to recruit officials of color [and] women,” Robinson emphasized.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.