Jim Knauf, 56, of Ottawa, has been officiating for 33 years. He plans to stay in stripes as long as he can, but he knows he's closer to the end of his career than the beginning.
"I feel as good now as I ever have. I shouldn’t even says this, I feel good. I feel like I can still keep up. I will keep doing it as long as my body allows me," he said.
Knauf is afraid, however, that when officials his age begin to hang up their whistles, there may not be enough new officials coming in to keep all the games being played.
Love them or hate them, there's simply no games to be played if there are no officials to call them.
"We're seeing as officials get older and older, they're not coming in as fast as they’re exiting, especially in our area," Knauf said. "It's not critical at this point, but moving in that direction. We do have a shortage of officials in our area."
Ken Wicoxen, president of the Rock River Officials Association based in Sterling-Rock Falls, believes the officials shortage is getting critical. Wilcoxen, 59, who has been officiating 40 years, sees the end of his career approaching and wonders who's going to take over.
"Every game I've umpired this spring, my partner has been older than me, and I'm going to be 60 in August. What's that tell you?" he said. "Four of us in our football crew will be 60, and our umpire will be 71. We have two softball umpires in our association in their late 70s. My son, Kris, is 35, and he's the youngest.
"It's not good. Not good at all."
Wilcoxen says he's not seeing many younger officials getting in, rather retired coaches or teachers looking for something to do.
Knauf is a member of the Illinois Valley Officials Association, which is 71 members strong, and he wants to ensure there is an ample supply of officials available now and in the future.
The association will be holding a recruiting seminar at 1 p.m. Sunday, April 15 at Ottawa High School, trying to spark local interest for new officials of any age.
"We’ve all been at this for a long time, and we really want to be able to leave this in good hands when it comes time to hang it up. We want to leave it in decent shape for the schools and athletes that are depending on us, whether they know it or not," Knauf said.
“We’re trying to attract some attention and shine some light on any age group that might be interested, or have thought about or not known how to go about it, and know there’s support out there.
"What we hope, sports at high school level continue for the foreseeable future. We would hate to get to the situation locally where there are more games than there are officials. It'd be tragic."
Knauf said representatives from the IHSA as well as officials and area school administrators will be on hand to provide information and support for prospective officials.
Officiating can do a body good, Knauf says. Depending on the sport, it’s like being in a physical fitness program and being paid for it.
It also can be good for your pocketbook.
Pay in the Illinois Valley is pretty consistent, Knauf says, by level and sport, football being a bit higher. Varsity basketball, softball and baseball will pay $60-$65 with football from $70-$125 depending on single or double assignments. Volleyball will pay $60-$110 for high school, depending on the school and number of matches, according to Patti Blumhorst of the Illinois Valley Volleyball Officials Association.
Underclass and junior high officials can expect a little less.
“It’s a good opportunity to have a really good side income without putting a lot of time into it,” Knauf said.
Anyone interested in becoming an official or just gaining some general information, can contact Knauf at 815-830-4804 or email@example.com or Blumhorst at 815-539-3178.