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David Dennis / Special to The Californian Liberty Patriots' Joey Rossi (4) is completely shocked by the call of the home plate umpire as he calls the runner out.

It's a numbers game that's played out in all Kern County high school sports that use officials throughout the school year.

There's always a scramble to have enough officials.

"In football, we have mid-70s and we could use 90," said Randy Horne, president of the Kern County Officials Association.

"Soccer? I'm not sure of the numbers but we could use more."

Baseball umpires available total only in the 50s. "We could use upwards of 60 to 65," Horne said.

The KCOA, founded in 1939, supplies officials for high school football, soccer, basketball, wrestling, volleyball, baseball and softball. Horne said the present membership is about 300.

They'll work games at 24 local schools, ranging from the high-enrollment Bakersfield city high schools to rural schools with fewer than 500 students.

Officials are assigned to varsity, junior varsity and frosh-soph games.

Horne said there can be a 20 percent increase in new officials for a given sport from one year to the next. But it's also common for 10 percent or more who quit from the previous season.

"It's a struggle," Horne said.

Some officials have been doing it for decades.

"A lot of the veteran officials are aging. We know this," Horne said. "We're trying to back-fill."

Retaining young officials who are just starting out can be a challenge.

If you officiate, you'd better have thick skin because you're going to receive some verbal abuse.

"If you're wearing a striped shirt, you're going to get yelled at. It goes with the territory," Horne said.

Nick Ellis is a former longtime official in Kern County and former KCOA president who still teaches baseball umpire techniques for the North Bakersfield Parks and Recreation District. Ellis was a guest on the May 15 BVarsity Live podcast.

One of the subjects of that show focused on baseball umpiring. The topic was triggered from an incident where Frontier baseball coach John Moncier was suspended from that coaching job for the rest of the season after a heated argument with umpire Mike Gibson following his ejection from a game.

Ellis talked about the difficulty keeping umpires, particularly young umpires who are just starting out.

"We have a numbers problem in Kern County that is a national problem as well," Ellis said. "The problem is nobody wants to umpire because most people ... don't want to go out there to get yelled at, screamed at and shown up. And that's just the way it is."

Said Horne: "We're human. We do the best we can to make the best judgment calls. If you make mistakes, you can't correct them. We just try to make sure not to make the same mistake again."

Horne said the KCOA's goal is to help officials improve.

"It's a job that's needed that a lot of people don't want to do," he said. "All you can do is educate the people. We do the training and get the experience. We'll mess up once in awhile, but by in large we get the calls right."

One of the challenges for baseball and softball officials is the mid-afternoon starting game times. Most of the other sports the KCOA works have early evening starting times.

Those working 9-to-5 Monday through Friday jobs aren't available to umpire 4 p.m. baseball and softball games.

Ellis laid out a scenario as if a help-wanted ad was placed for prospective baseball and softball officials.

"Wanted: umpires; 4 o'clock. You need to take off work early. You can't see your kids until after the game. We're not sure when it's going to be over.

"And the way it is right now, probably the end of your first year, you're going to be seeing coaches that have been around baseball for many years ... and they may or may not take a piece of you, and you're not going to be able to say much because you don't know what to do yet.

"Would you like this job for $50 a game?"

Officials do get paid, but nothing close to the hundreds of dollars per game top-level college officials receive.

The CIF Central Section pays the same whether officials are from the Fresno, Visalia or Kern County areas, Horne said.

Thom Simmons, director of communications for the CIF Southern Section, said the economy plays a part in the struggle to attract officials.

Boron, Mojave, Desert, Maricopa and Ridgecrest schools Burroughs and Immanuel Christian are Kern County's Southern Section schools.

The Southern Section has 572 members, the largest section in California. The Central Section has 104 schools.

"It used to be a labor of love, something to do as a hobby," Simmons said. "Because of the economy, it's not that way any more. You're looking to supplement your income and you're not paid enough to do that."

Football officials are paid higher than other sports, Simmons said, saying the per-game pay for the regular season is $77 to $79, the low $80s in early round playoffs and $94 for championship games.

The Central Section pays its football officials between $54 and $79 per game depending on level, while officials in other sports earn between $31 and $70 depending on sport, level and position.

"Football pays better, a lot better than some sports," Simmons said. "But at the end of the day, people fail to remember that it's a revenue sport that can support them. That why you see them paid more money."

This isn't something to do if all you're focused on is money, Simmons said.

"At the end of the day, they must feel the passion to be an official," he said. "It's not a lot of money. You're not making a fortune. You may supplement your income a little bit but you're not provided enough to take a vacation to Hawaii.

"You must be out there for the passion of it."

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