It’s Official: We Still Need More Referees (So Please Help)

As our new high school basketball season tips off this week, Whatcom County will not lack for great players and successful teams. But there is something we are lacking: officials.

Across the nation there has been an unfortunate decline in the number of basketball officials over the past couple of years. Before COVID hit in 2020, more than 100 officials working local high school games and soon after the number shrank to almost half.

Dave Zylstra, the new president of the Northwest Board of Officials Association for Whatcom, Skagit, and Island counties, noted that the number started to rise to about 65 last season when some veteran officials returned after the pandemic.

But that is not enough. The lack of officials has forced some varsity games to be rescheduled to different nights. At the lower levels, officiating crews might be limited to two referees a game instead of the usual three. More shuffling may be in store.

And don’t blame the men and women in pinstripes. Many are working varsity and JV doubleheaders, sometimes four or five nights a week. There just aren’t enough to go around.

As Zylstra pointed out, the help wanted sign is still out. 

“We’re still not at a spot where we feel totally confident that we’ll be able to service all interscholastic games due to the realities of life,” Zylstra said of all the boys and girls high school and middle school games.

“Athletic directors have adjusted schedules to spread games out during the week, which helped greatly last year. We hope for more of the same this coming season.”

The good news is that almost anyone can help.

If you’re interested but have no experience, training is available. Newcomers as young as high school students can start with middle school games. And rookies will be paired with veterans to start out.

The association also works with officials as far as their personal schedules and availability. In addition to being paid per game, there are stipends for travel and, when needed, ferry fees.

If you’d like to support young athletes, be involved in school sports, get some exercise and get paid for it, contact the association by going to its website ( or emailing You can also text or call recruiting coordinator Bernie Upchurch at (360) 320-5594.

EDITORIAL COMMENT: Speaking for Whatcom Hoops and all our basketball fans, we want to thank our local officials for all that do in a job with little recognition and often a lot of pressure. Let’s all of us (participants as well as fans) continue to show our officials the respect they deserve … because we couldn’t do it without them.

Jim Carberry of Whatcom Hoops

Jim Carberry is a former Bellingham Herald sports editor and author of several books on Whatcom County prep basketball. Follow him on Twitter @whatcomhoops and visit the Whatcom Hoops Facebook page.

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