CHILTON, Wis. (WFRV) – Change hit the football field Thursday evening at Chilton High School’s brand-new athletic complex. The $19.3 million project began in April, and 133 days later it is complete, ready to welcome up to 2,200 fans for the season opener against the Crivitz Wolverines.
“I’m so excited I could just cry because it’s just an amazing day for this community and our school district,” Chilton School District Superintendent Sue Kaphingst said.
Previously, the team traveled down the road to Morrisey Park to play football and other sports.
“We had to ride buses to football games, and it almost doesn’t feel like a home game when you’ve got to take a bus every single time,” senior football player Zac Halbach said.
The track and field team will also feel the effects of having their own rubber track, rather than training on asphalt.
“We couldn’t run in the rain, we’d slip and fall,” senior track team member Samantha Koehler said of asphalt. “It’s really hard on our legs, we’d get shin splints every time.”
Chilton’s athletics may be on an upward trajectory, but fewer referees returning to officiate games every year is an issue plaguing the state.
“We found that only two out of ten officials return after their second year is completed, so we’re losing 80% of our new officials after year two,” Assistant Director of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, Kate Peterson Abiad, said. “They’re reporting the number one reason for leaving is what they call adult behavior.”
That “adult behavior” consists of negative comments and actions from parents, fans, and sometimes coaches, according to Peterson Abiad. She adds that competitive youth sports are where adult behavior most commonly drives officials out, with high school sports a close second.
“Officials are staying longer because we don’t have the next generation of officials coming in,” she said.
Kraig Binversie, a referee with the Calumet County Officials Association, says that as referees get older, many want to spend more time with their families and their own kids.
“It’s a time commitment away from my family and kids,” he said.
Finding substitute referees when the ones scheduled have to cancel is nearly impossible.
“Now I’ve got to find a couple of guys to fill in, sometimes it amounts to what warm body I got to find tonight,” Binversie said.
Because of the referee shortage, many games have been moved to Thursday nights to space them out over the two days. But that solution creates another problem, as volleyball games typically take place on Thursdays.
“There are three, four games where my volleyball officials have to do volleyball and then they forget about football on Thursday because they think it’s a typical Friday night,” Binversie said.
Ultimately, the shortage of referees will only be solved by a shift in culture, Peterson Abiad says.
“We need a place where officials who are just starting can learn and grow in their craft,” she said. “We have to have some tolerance of the learning curve that happens with officials or we’ll continue to lose them.”