ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — We’ve heard the same story a lot already this season. Friday night games moving to Saturday’s because there aren’t enough guys in stripes to go around.

Last week, one officiating crew had to do two varsity games Friday night because of the continued shortage of officials around the area.

“It’s very difficult right now,” said retired Big Ten official Jeff Carr.

The number have continued to drop over the last few years.

“We’ve lost probably 30-40% of our football officials,” said Carr.

IHSA official Michael O’Herron knows the problem is only getting worse.

“It’s a real problem, we need to get more young guys involved in officiating,” said O’Herron.

The shortage of football officials has been felt throughout the state of Illinois, but especially in this area within the NIC-10.

Carr assigns NIC-10 officials to games.

“We’ve been recruiting people and we actually have picked up 8-10 new people this year which has helped, but we haven’t gained any ground for what we lost.”

And because they can’t get new officials, it’s on the current crews to pick up the slack. One crew had to work two varsity games in one night last week, the first at Auburn, the second at Hononegah.

“I approached them with that, I said ‘are you willing to do this?’ And they said, ‘yeah, we’d be willing to work two games that night,'” said Carr.

It was something this crew was more than happy to do, but that doesn’t mean they thought it would be a walk in the park.

“It’s certainly not easy, it’s hard to do one game, but to have the concentration level to do two games,” said O’Herron.

It starts to hit home that there’s a real problem here. And not just at the varsity level, there’s a ripple effect to all levels.

Brock Wishowski is another IHSA official on this crew and he’s really starting to realize just how serious the shortage is getting.

“It goes beyond high school sports because now the little kids usually play on Saturday’s and usually, we all are free to go do 3, 4, 5 little kid’s games and instead we are going to do varsity games and higher level games,” said Wishowski. “It’s kind of like wow, it is actually getting real that there aren’t enough people to cover Friday night varsity games.”

This crew has been reffing together for the last 12 years. They grew up playing sports, and now they spend their weekend back on the field together.

“This is teamwork and comraderie for us and we are all kind of unified, we don’t do it for the money, we do it for the love of the game and we want to give back and be out here for these guys,” said O’Herron.

They are out there because they remember how much they loved Friday nights and they want to make sure these kids are able to have those same experiences.

“That’s what we tell the kids at the coin flip, that we are out here for them, and that’s what matters the most.”

Mike Lea is also another veteran member of this crew, and he continued to emphasize their sole focus being on the kids.

“We are here for the kids and we are going to do everything we can because we remember what it was like to be a kid playing,” said Lea smiling. “You know, there was no better time than competing with your friends on the field, so we are going to do everything we can so that the kids have the same opportunity we did.”

And this may be the case for now, but at some point down the road, there’s going to come a time when this crew won’t be able to do it anymore.

“If we don’t get officials, the game doesn’t continue to play,” said Wishowski.

A sad reality, but the truth.

“There’s this group of officials that are in their 40’s and 50’s that another five or ten years without more people coming in, yeah could be a real problem,” said O’Herron.

For these guys, officiating is a way for them to stay involved in the game they love. And they hope more athletes will use officiating as a path to do the same.

“We got too old to play anymore so the best way to get on the field again is to be an official,” said Lea.