La Grande boys soccer

La Grande’s Lewis Wright is upended during a nonconference win over Pendleton on Sept. 7, 2016. Blue Mountain Referees, the organization that coordinates high school game officials between La Grande and Baker City, is searching for soccer referees for the upcoming fall season.

LA GRANDE — Blue Mountain Referees, the organization that coordinates high school game officials between La Grande and Baker City, is searching for soccer referees for the upcoming fall season.

The organization, which is responsible for varsity and junior varsity matches for La Grande High School and Baker High School, currently has three senior referees and two regular officials.

“There’s been a shortage of referees recently, in all sports, but specifically for soccer in this area,” BMR Soccer Referee Commissioner Brandon Torres said.

The association hopes to hire up to three referees more by late August, when the high school soccer season begins. Varsity games require three officials and JV requires two, although they have played games with just one official.

“It’s hard to find people that are passionate about the sport and want to learn, but that’s the kind of person that I want to hire,” Torres said. “I just need people. As long as they’re willing to learn, I’m willing to train them.”

According to Torres, most new referees leave the position because of unacceptable parent and fan behavior.

“Some teams and the people around them have fostered an attitude that if their team loses, it’s our fault,” Torres said. “I’ve had people scream at me, curse at me, but I’m stubborn enough to keep on doing it because I love it.”

According to Hank Hudson, a high school referee in the area since 1988, parents should be more concerned about having referees at all. Over the last five years, several games have been rescheduled because of the issue.

“Without referees, they can’t have the sport,” he said. “Games have had to be cancelled in the past because there weren’t enough refs, so that’s what parents should be worried about.”

Sidronio Rangel, the head coach of the La Grande High School’s boys soccer team, said promoting a strong sense of sportsmanship and respect is key to making referees feel comfortable — something he tells his team before every match.

“I’ve asked everyone to be sportsmanlike. There’s no tolerance for any sort of backtalk, abusive behavior or anything like that,” he said. “I want this to spread beyond the team itself, to the parents, fans, opponents and community members that are at our games.”

For Torres, the two main priorities for officials should be integrity of the game and team safety. He said that anyone who is passionate about the sport and wants to uphold these values should consider applying, and Rangel agrees.

“It’s a good opportunity to get to know the sport of soccer and also make some money,” Rangel said. “We’ve had to rearrange some games, but the refs have been great and I think it’s a good chance for education for anyone who loves the game.”

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