LUBBOCK, Texas — Mike Applegate loved watching and playing basketball growing up. As he got older, he was looking for a way to give back. His first thought was to become a referee.

Flash forward 29 years, and he is still officiating games across the South Plains, and is the current president of the Lubbock Basketball Officials Chapter (LBOC).

“It’s the best way to stay close to the game,” Applegate said. “I enjoy being out on the court. When I played, there was a lot of activity running up and down the court, and as an official, you’re out there being part of the game.”

The tip off of the high school basketball season is just a few weeks away. Unfortunately, there is a problem on the court. They don’t have enough officials. 

Applegate said COVID-19 certainly had an impact on the decline in refs. 

“With COVID, we had a drop of about 15% off of our normal numbers,” Applegate said. “People were concerned about their health.”

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, nearly 50,000 referees have called it quits since the 2018 – 2019 school year – the last full school year unaffected by the pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, the LBOC had 225 referees. Now, they are sitting at 190 and looking for at least 20 more.

Daylan Flowers said many fear aggressive parents and fans. With nearly a decade of officiating under his belt, he’s learned to tune out the crowd.

“I’ve gone to the rules clinic, I’ve studied, I’ve called this game for multiple years, I know exactly what I’m doing,” said Flowers, a division representative for LBOC. “I just try to keep it even-keeled and tune out the noise and call the game the way it should be called.”

Applegate said the area’s high school administration will step in if need be, but they typically don’t have a problem. 

“There’s been such a backlash from the concerns of people being attacked, and the negativity and the coaches, and same thing with fans,” Applegate said. “One of the things that’s really fortunate for us is here in West Texas, is we don’t experience those kinds of issues.”

Flowers hopes to share his love for officiating with others.

“This is a great opportunity to make some extra cash, but also be able to help give to the community and also stay in shape and have fun with something they’d probably love to do,” Flowers said.

Want to become an official? Visit the LBOC website to learn more.