TROY — Former Preble County resident Kevin Forrer’s hobby is not like other people’s.
He’s hoping to change that by bringing others into the fold.
Forrer — the Southwest District’s officials assignor for the Greater Western Ohio Conference, as well as an official himself for football, basketball and baseball — hopes to address a referee shortage that the area is facing by bringing attention to a series of football officiating classes starting July 25, as the district hopes to add 75 football officials before the season begins in August, as well as 75 more in each of the next two years.
For Forrer, the key is giving high school student-athletes the best possible experience.
“It’s about the kids,” Forrer said. “Especially in today’s age, the kids invest so much time into playing their sport, and they’re committed to it year round. I don’t care if it’s baseball or football or basketball … my daughter (Jalyn) plays volleyball and basketball, and as soon as basketball season is over, a month later they’re doing open gyms, then they have their summer league, and the pressure for the ones that want to go play in college is to play AAU in the spring. It’s no different for baseball or football.
“Obviously, we have a shortage of officials, and we have to get the word out there. These kids deserve officials that are as dedicated as they are.”
Forrer’s day job is as the national accounts manager for U.S. Foods, but he is deeply entrenched in high school sports in the Miami County and greater Miami Valley area as the supervisor of officials for the Southwest District.
“I’ve got close to 900 officials that work for me, and I’m the official assignor for the GWOC, and I will be the assignor for the new Miami Valley League when it transitions,” he said. “That’s for the sports of football and basketball, and I assist with baseball and softball.”
For him, it started as a hobby and a way to earn some spare cash, and it’s one that he’s already spread to his family.
“It’s my golf game, really,” he said. “I started officiating, umpiring baseball, when I was in eighth grade. I joke around and say that it’s a lot cheaper hobby than golf — in fact, I get paid to do it. I was a baseball player, and as a young kid, it’s a great way to make some pocket money doing something I absolutely enjoyed doing.
“My son (Peyton) is going to be a sophomore at the University of Tennessee, and he’s umpiring one of the pastime tournament at Wright State right now. He took one of my classes as a freshman in high school, and he’s been doing football and basketball for years and started doing baseball this year. He’s a pre-med major and has to study all the time, so this gives him a couple-hour break from studying and a chance to make some money since he doesn’t have time to hold a job. I’d recommend officiating to anyone that’s in high school or college. It’s a great way to make extra income and not have to hold down a job.”
It’s not a typical hobby — and enough officials to cover all of the games going on in the area on any given night have been getting more and more difficult to find. But Forrer says the reasons for that aren’t necessarily what one might think.
“You can look at all the different avenues, but obviously the economy is extremely good right now,” he said. “Back in 2008 to 2011, using basketball as an example, I was averaging probably 90-110 new officials a year. Now, I’m averaging about 35, and a lot of that has to do with the economy. That’s probably the biggest thing — you always hear excuses about the pay or the parents or the coaches, and yes, that is true, but really that’s not that big a factor. And yes, there is time and commitment — but again, this is my golf game. I don’t golf. I do this.”
And he wants more people to join him.
Beginning July 25, there will be a number different football officiating courses offered. The cost for each is between $110-125, depending on facility rental costs. The classes in the immediate area include one at Upper Valley Career Center in Piqua, one at Wright State University’s Nutter Center and one at Scott Industrial Systems in Huber Heights, as well as classes in Middletown, Mason and West Chester, with two new classes being added in Springfield and Bellefontaine.
“We have to do a better job getting the word out,” Forrer said. “It’s amazing how many times a new official has said ‘I’ve always wanted to do this but I never knew how to get involved.’ So that’s why my push to get 75 new officials in football, and in the winter I’m going to do the same to get 100. And we’ve got more classes than we’ve ever had to be able to do that. And really, our best tool for recruiting is PSAs and word-of-mouth.”
And to Forrer, it can be an incredibly rewarding thing.
“As an official, the most rewarding thing is the respect gained over the years with coaches and players throughout the area,” he said. “And as an assignor, one of the biggest satisfactions is to see the young ones coming up and how they develop and move on when they have a goal. To see them reach their goals and move on to the next level is so satisfying.
“The numbers have been down, and these kids deserve officials who are dedicated to them as well.”
(R-H Editor’s note: Forrer, who grew up in Gratis, and attended his early school years in the Preble Shawnee School District. He still has family members living in the county and school district.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.