CIF-SS commissioner weighs in on lacrosse growth, referee shortage, transfers

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CIF Southern Section Commissioner Rob Wigod sat down with the Signal to talk about some of the most pressing issues prep sports is facing ahead of the fall sports season. In Part 2 of The Signal’s phone interview with Wigod, the commissioner comments on the growth of lacrosse, the referee shortage and transfers.

Signal Sports: Santa Clarita now has a Foothill League for lacrosse. How have you seen the sport of lacrosse grow in the last few years?

Wigod: We have been very excited to see the growth of lacrosse and we have a specific section bylaw that says unless 20 percent of our member schools field that particular sport, then we cannot conduct a Southern Section championship until they do. So in a section as large as ours, that’s over 560 schools, when you do the math, we’re looking at well over 100 schools that need to have teams. 

It’s been a few years to get there, but we’re now at the threshold that we need to be with 20 percent of our section’s member schools with lacrosse teams and we’re excited to put on the first-ever Southern Section lacrosse championships for boys and for girls. 

And we know, because we’ve seen it in other sports, that as soon as we can get started and establish those championships, that sports going to continue to grow. We’re really looking forward to our first championships in the sport for boys and for girls. We’re looking forward to the growth that we believe is going to happen in that sport once we get these championships established this year.

S: There is a referee shortage. What is the biggest thing that’s preventing people from coming out to be a referee?

W: There are a lot of reasons. We are trying really hard; we’ve launched an officials recruitment program out of our office, we just finished all of our eligibility workshops around our section probably spent time in front of representatives about 300 of our schools. It’s everyone’s job to try to find and get more officials involved. 

We are asking the schools to identify student-athletes that have left, students that have graduated who are at College of the Canyons and at local colleges who want a good part-time job and love sports, want to stay involved. We’re asking for their help, officials associations, they need to do it and again we’re doing it. Anyone who is interested in a prospective officials position, we have an email address on our website.

What we find in terms of getting new officials, the environment is really important to have these officials are introduced to high school sports and high school sports officiating. If they’re coming out to work games and coming to schools where there is no administrative support for them, there are fan bases and communities who are very very difficult on the officials, coaches that treat the officials poorly, then that’s going to be huge factors in why people don’t want to continue to officiate. So again, we’re asking our schools, you’re part of this, we’re all part of this.

I don’t know where we’re going to be in three to five years on this. Right now it’s getting to be very critical. I don’t think our schools like having games moved to Mondays and other days of the week. They don’t like that and we appreciate that, but then they need to help along with us. 

S: What’s the biggest thing that needs to change in Southern California prep sports?   

W: We always want to keep reminding people what our mission is as the CIF Southern Section. Our mission is education-based athletics. It’s using high school athletics as a classroom outside the building to teach students valuable lessons for the rest of their lives, how to work hard, how to work together, how to get through things when it’s difficult and there’s adversity that’s facing you. How to set your individual goals aside and work with a group of others to set team goals and try to achieve those goals as a group. 

And our student-athletes are different. There’s diversity. There are students on these teams that are different colors, different religions, different backgrounds socioeconomically, they speak different languages perhaps, but they set all that aside and they try to pull together and work together as one group and our organization has been doing this, this is our 107th year. And if you want to see how things really should be, look at a high school sports team. They’re showing all of us how we can get along and how we can work together and how we can reinforce ideas like loyalty and commitment and perseverance. That’s us. 

There’s 400,000 student-athletes in our section that are participating in these programs. That’s who we are. Do we celebrate those that go on to professional ranks, college ranks and compete at the highest levels in the nation in terms of their sport and athletic ability? Absolutely. But they’re a small part of it and I think what I get a little bit concerned about is people focusing so much on the number of transfers or high profile transfers or issues like that and not realizing the bigger picture here. That’s not who really who we are and those that want to make high school athletics into a business, that’s not who we are. 

So I think it’s really important that people realize that we’re the only ones that do education-based athletics and I think we do it very well. What we need to do our best job of teaching loyalty, commitment, perseverance, sticking to things when it may not go your way instead of glorifying and celebrating transfers because school two and school three and school four because I’m not playing enough or the coach just left and I need to go here now because the grass is greener and there’s a student at that school who has been there two years waiting for their turn. Maybe getting misplaced by the transfer student. 

So what are we teaching? Are we teaching loyalty? Are we teaching commitment? Are we teaching how to deal with some adversity? Are we teaching to stick to something or are we teaching people to run and just run away from whatever that issue might be? And then that’s really where I feel that all of us need to just keep reminding ourselves that the far and large number of student-athletes get great benefits from education-based athletics and maybe we should continue to focus on that versus a much smaller group. We had less than 7,000 transfers last year out of a total student-athlete population of 400,000 student-athletes. That’s less than two percent and so 393,000 student-athletes stayed put, stayed at their schools and participated in their programs. 

So again, I just hope that people realize that a small part of who we are and what we do and there’s a far much larger group that I hope we’re getting what they should be getting out of education-based athletics, which is preparation for their futures to make them better adults, better people and learning these great lessons that high school athletics experience teaches them and that’s really how I feel.

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