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On and off the ice: Community members, coach discuss impacts of referee shortage on youth hockey 

Photo credit: Emily Paschall
A referee stands ready on the ice while players go for the puck during a hockey game. Math teacher and referee Matthew Bartha said he was inspired to become a referee from his previous hockey experiences. Bartha and Los Angeles Junior Kings coach Zach Margeson both said youth ice hockey has been impacted greatly by the referee shortage.

The tweet of a referee’s whistle echos over the sound of players skating in an ice rink. The sound of papers shuffling fill the math classroom while a teacher grades exams.

Matthew Bartha is a math teacher and hockey referee. Bartha has been a referee for nine years; he did three years of reffing roller hockey and is in his sixth year of reffing ice hockey. He said ice hockey referees get assigned to many different rinks around their area. Some of the rinks where Bartha has reffed at include Lakewood, Artesia, Harbor City, Anaheim and El Segundo.  

“It’s a good second job because it’s very different than the job [of] being a math teacher — particularly this school versus the challenges I deal with on the ice,” Bartha said. “It’s a change of pace, so if I have to work extra, it’s a nice way to do it.”

Bartha used to play roller and ice hockey and started when he was 6 years old. He also played ice hockey as an adult for professional leagues.

“I’ve thought about playing in the local leagues here but haven’t really got around to looking into them,” Bartha said. “I enjoy the game, and I want to stay involved even though I don’t play anymore. It’s a decent source of income in terms of supplementing other things I have going on.”

In order to become an ice hockey referee, one must get retrained every year through hours of classroom modules, SafeSport training and on-ice evaluations. Bartha said the training process can be expensive and is a leading cause of the current referee shortage.

Los Angeles Junior Kings coach Zach Margeson is an 18U AAA, 18U AA and 13U AAA coach at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo. He said the COVID-19 pandemic and poor treatment over time have decreased the number of referees in youth hockey.

There have been some weeks where, including the weekend, I was getting assigned almost 20 games … I’d say hockey has been hit pretty hard.”

— Math teacher and hockey referee Matthew Bartha

“The referee shortage started mostly because of the lockdown. And post-lockdown, a lot of people left,” Margeson said. “Referees don’t get treated very well most of the time, so a lot of the guys that stopped doing it just didn’t want to come back and do it. Now, there’s this big drive to get a lot more young kids that used to play but are now aged out to come back and ref.”  

According to an article from the National Federation of State High School Associations, a survey done by the National Association of Sports Officials revealed concerns surrounding the shortage of officials and the increase in openings for games to referee. The survey found that while many referees answered that they were thankful for more opportunities to officiate games, the majority answered that they were feeling overwhelmed or burnt out.

Bartha said he has seen a large increase in how many games he was assigned six years ago compared to today due to the shortage. He made the decision to adjust his availability to better fit his schedule.

“When I was first starting, in a full week, you probably wouldn’t work any more than five to 10 games,” Bartha said. “But, I’ve had to adjust my availability because there have been some weeks where, including the weekend, I was getting assigned almost 20 games. Each of those are two-hour games — you do the math, it’s like a full time job … I’d say hockey has been hit pretty hard.”

Margeson said his teams’ game schedules often have to be changed due to the shortage. Additionally, he said there is an increase in new referees at games.

“The lack of referees makes it incredibly difficult to schedule games to get multiple games in a weekend,” Margeson said. “Because of that, you get a lot of new referees, and then you have old coaches that don’t like that new refs are going to make mistakes. They yell at them, and they’re mean. There has to be a lot of patience.” 

Sophomore Layla Negrin partook in a referee training program in Santa Monica this past summer. Negrin said her desire to help young kids experience a sport she enjoys led her to chose a referee program, and she is interested in and passionate about sports in general.

“To be a referee in hockey, you have to have full equipment and know how to ice skate,” Negrin said. “I feel like in other sports, sometimes refereeing can be easy, but for hockey, like a lot of sports, too, there are a lot of rules, and you have to have a passion for it.”

The video above shows clips from two hockey games that took place at the Toyota Sports Center in October and November of 2023. Bartha was one of the three referees at the October game. Margeson coached the Los Angeles Junior Kings 18U AA team during both games.

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About the Contributor
Emily Paschall
Emily Paschall, Senior Reporter
Emily Paschall joined the Oracle as a staff reporter in 2022. She is now a senior reporter. She participates in dance at Archer. She is also a part of the Ambassador Leadership Team Advisory Board and Dance Leadership Team. In her free time, Emily enjoys spending time with family and friends, listening to K-pop or Taylor Swift, and playing with her dog.

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