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Virus, compressed season put stress on Michigan referees

basketball referee photo
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High schools are anticipating a shortage of men and women who blow the whistle as basketball returns to Michigan gyms after a timeout for the coronavirus.

Registration of referees is down 25% from a year ago, and the risk of COVID-19 is a “contributing factor,” said Geoff Kimmerly, a spokesman at the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

“It is always a concern because there are so many games with the girls and boys seasons playing concurrently,” Kimmerly told MLive.com. “It is a concern even in non-COVID years, and we expect it to be more of a concern over these next two months.”

High school basketball typically starts in December, but the state delayed it because of the coronavirus. The regular season now will last six weeks followed by the state tournament.

Kimmerly said middle school coaches are being encouraged to register as officials. Some schools will likely schedule two games a day, which would allow refs to work both games.

Dave Feenstra, head of the Ottawa-Kent Conference, which has dozens of schools in western Michigan, said his region will feel the pinch. He’s asking college students to pitch in and call middle school games.

“With some of our guys working three nights a week, it’s going to be fast and furious with the season,” Feenstra said.

Mike Jager is eager to return to the court. He hasn’t worn his striped shirt since last March.

“I texted my family ... and told them basketball is back,” Jager said. “I will get reacquainted with you when we get done in April.”