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Falcons give $50,000 grant to GHSA to help recruit new officials

The Georgia High School Association’s push to attract a new generation of officials got a huge boost Wednesday thanks to a $50,000 grant from the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation, a branch of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.

The grant will help establish a Georgia Youth Sports Recruitment Program that will offer grants from $200-$400 to new officials. The money will be used to cover registration and start-up costs, such as the purchase of uniforms, and will help defray associated training fees. The gift means the GSHA will be able to add as many as 200 new officials.

“Our sport is facing a critical need to increase the number of officials at the youth and high school level,” Atlanta Falcons CEO Rich McKay said. “The Atlanta Falcons and the Georgia High School Association have been long-time partners in support of youth and high school football and we are proud to work with them to tackle this important issue. Our hope is that this grant removes perceived barriers and shows support not just for officials, but for all student-athletes.”

The agreement is the latest chapter in the ongoing relationship between the Falcons and the GHSA. The Falcons virtually funded the startup of flag football in Georgia and worked together to bring the state high school football championships back to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

GHSA executive director Robin Hines said, “This is a natural progression. The Falcons see a problem, and they want to help. This really shows their commitment to high school sports and the GHSA. We’re absolutely grateful.”

The lack of football officials has caused the GHSA to split up their football playoffs and force two of the seven classifications to play first-round playoff games on a Saturday night. This is a step toward solving that dilemma.

“We feel inherently that Friday nights is high school football nights, and we’d certainly like to get to the point where we can do that again,” Hines said.

The need to bring in new officiating blood has always been important, but it became more critical during COVID-19, when many of the older, veteran officials opted out. The GHSA has actively recruited new officials through public-service spots and job fairs. It recently approved an increase in pay for officials, ensuring that Georgia remains among the top states for renumeration.

Ernie Yarbrough, the GHSA’s assistant executive director, began working with Falcons officials in the spring to nail down the details. He said for every two new officials who get involved on the high school level, five older officials retire. The need for additional football referees increased several years ago when the GSHA added an extra official to each crew when it expanded to seven officials.

“This is going to be tremendous,” Yarbrough said. “It’s an area that people don’t realize what it costs, the initial expense, to become a high school official. That’s one of the No. 1 concerns if you’ve got a 22-year-old coming round out of college that we want to recruit. They haven’t made a dime yet on a job, but we’re asking them to spend $400 or $500 just to get started.”

McKay, who chairs the NFL’s competition committee, will take the plan to the other NFL teams to copy and use in their respective states.

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