A sign of things to come? Officials shortage hits Kishwaukee River Conference

KRC forced to play 8 non-Friday football games this season

Richmond-Burton's Owen Wisniewski hits Harvard's Adam Cooke as he throws the ball during a Kishwaukee River Conference football game on Thursday, Oct.12, 2023, at Richmond-Burton High School.

The numbers – close to 95 football games each weekend in the Chicago suburban area with about 82 available officiating crews – indicated that something had to give for some conferences on Friday nights.

The Kishwaukee River Conference was one of those unfortunate leagues.

The KRC was relegated to playing eight non-Friday games this season, some of which were moved to Thursdays, other to Saturdays.

KRC assignment chairman Jim Adamski did what he could with what was available and was able to pare that number down from 14, which the KRC schools thought they had in the summer. The Week 9 game between Johnsburg and Harvard was initially scheduled as a Thursday game, but an available crew was found and it was moved to Friday.

It is not an ideal situation and everyone involved hopes next season there will be even fewer non-Friday dates, although without a huge bump in officiating numbers, it may be a problem the KRC will deal with again.

Our conference has had to bear the brunt of it.”

—  Tim Jackson, Richmond-Burton athletic director

“We don’t like it, we want to play on Friday night like everyone else,” Richmond-Burton athletic director Tim Jackson said. “When we played at Marengo on Thursday and had hardly any students.

“Our conference has had to bear the brunt of it. There are some leagues who didn’t switch. What needs to happen is we all need to get together, if we don’t have enough officials, what can we do as a whole to make it so one conference doesn’t have nine and others have zero?”

Adamski was at a disadvantage in mid-April when he was hired as assignment chairman. There are 17 assigners for the area north of I-80, that is east of Rockford, south of Wisconsin and west of Indiana.

Officiating crews, who are independent contractors, let the assigners know where they are willing to work and the assigners then draft their lists of crews.

“Two weeks before the meeting I was hired,” Adamski said. “I went in behind the 8-ball. I’vs been officiating for 56 years. I’m fully aware of the shortage of officials. As independent contractors, the officials have the right of choosing where they go to work.”

The KRC combines conferences for football with the Interstate 8, forming two divisions. Adamski assigns just for the KRC, which will switch to an eight-team conference next year with Harvard, Johnsburg, Marengo, Plano, Richmond-Burton, Sandwich, Woodstock and Woodstock North.

Harvard athletic director Barry Gurvey acknowledges geography is not in the KRC’s favor.

“Part of our problem is location,” Gurvey said. “We’re at the far end of the suburban area, so a crew in Naperville may not want to take a game out here. Not only is it travel, but travel with Friday afternoon traffic. It’s hard to get out to some of these schools.”

Jackson sometimes sees a domino effect with the rest of sports.

“The other unintended consequence is your schedule is built for Friday night (football),” he said. “Think about your trainer. Nothing else on Friday because trainer travels with football. My game workers are usually the same people. Football, with the administration legwork needs to stand alone.

“We knew it was going to cause issues at the gate, not as many people will show up. There have been other things that we didn’t see in May or June.”

The obvious solution is to get more people officiating. Adamski said an average official is older than 55, stressing the need for more new blood in the ranks. But that will not happen overnight.

“The bottom line is we need to get more officials and we want to treat the officials we have well and want to come back,” Jackson said.

Adamski hopes he can recruit more crews for next season.

“We have to be more creative in how football is going to be played,” Gurvey said. “I was in Pekin before Harvard. We looked at freshman on Thursday, varsity on Friday and JV on Monday to have enough crews for everybody.”

Adamski mentioned that having lower level games before a varsity meant two crews for that night, so having only varsity games would help.

“We’ll see how it plays out. Do I think we’re going to have all Friday night games next year? Not a chance,” Adamski said. “But there were 100 games moved this year in those boundaries, non-Fridays. Our conference had nine. I’d like to be able to say before the season that every game was played on Friday night, and be done. It doesn’t work that way.”