From the NFL to junior varsity, football players and coaches across the country are gearing up for the 2018 football season.

The same rang true at the Ardmore High School cafeteria, this weekend, as area officials, with experience ranging from the upper echelon of officiating at the BCS National Championship to more humble beginnings of eight-man football in Southern Oklahoma, worked on their craft at the 2018 Texoma Football Officials Association/FCA Football Officials Clinic.

Rule changes, sideline management, and methods on understanding the intricacies that separate offensive and defensive pass interference were key topics per usual.

And this year, the clinic addressed the state of the game’s future. But it wasn’t just about implementing rules that will reduce concussions that have led parents to place their children in non-contact sports.

Case and point.

“If you’re under 35-years-old please raise your hand,” Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association Director of Officiating Todd Dilbeck asked.

Of the crowd of around 30 officials, just one hand shot up.

According to OSSAA and TFOA officials, Oklahoma is facing a big issue when it comes to the game of football. The next generation, (cough) millennials, has yet to surface.

“There is a major shortage of officials, particularly in football. If more young people don’t start officiating, there will be a major negative impact on the game we all love,” a handout dispersed at the clinic read.

For the past two years, the OSSAA has worked to combat the shortage by offering training classes to bring in the next generation of officials.

The one millennial at the clinic, Kyle Whisenhunt has officiated football in the Stevens County area for the past three years. His dad got him into the demanding, yet often thankless task of being an official.

Whisenhunt said it’s been a struggle to bring his peers into the job.

“I’ve tried getting out the word and connecting,” Whisenhunt said. “Everyone still likes football, but they prefer sitting in the stands and being able to cheer. I try to tell them, maybe you have to sacrifice your amount of cheering for these kids and focus on the game.”

Whisenhunt said he’s been singled out on the field for his unique position as a young back-judge in an increasingly old man’s game. But, he said, he’s learned to deal with coaches looking to sway calls in their favor by directing their ire towards him.

TFOA Coordinator Larry Darter said older officials will generally shield the less experienced officials from criticism. It’s something necessary to helping retain officials, he said.

“[The shortage] It’s all over the state, young kids don’t like to be yelled at,” Darter said. “We have to take care of our officials. Officials have to take care of their young. Like a hen taking care of her chicks or a mare taking care of her colt — we do.”

At the clinic, Dilbeck said with the amount of phone cameras and social media around the field, the scrutiny on officials is higher than ever.

But Whisenhunt said he enjoys his work as a back judge

“I enjoy it, It’s good fun,” Whisenhunt said. “As a back judge, I get to sit in the back and don’t have to deal with coaches as much. In my first year, I had coaches coming at me asking if this was my first game. But, I haven’t been shielded so much that I don’t know how to deal with coaches.”

Darter began officiating over 40 years ago. He was a kid in college when he took the job. He wanted to make an extra ‘$15-20 bucks a week.’

He’s stuck with it ever since. Now officials make around $85-100 per game. But in more than just pocket money, Darter said it’s been a rewarding gig.

“It’s just a love for the game and love for the kids,” Darter said. “It’s human nature. You want to help and give back.”

If you are wanting to sign up and become an official, you can do so by visiting OSSAA.com. Click on officials, registration and pick which sport you want to officiate in and fill out your information.