It’s wrestling — and part of the reason is a unique mentorship program.
“It was just kind of a Central Oregon program, and now it’s spreading across the state, which is pretty cool,” said La Pine wrestling coach and Athletic Director Aaron Flack.
Almost a decade ago, a La Pine wrestling parent came up with an idea to get very young athletes involved in refereeing.
“It started out with just kids that were being mentored by officials and they would go and ref mat club tournaments with an actual official with them. Some kids were like 6, 7, 8 years old,” Aaron Flack said.
Those kids are now in high school and are officially sanctioned referees — a mentorship that has helped them with things like their own skills.
“I take it as a learning experience,” said Devon Keer, whose father was the one to come up with the program.
“You need to know your own judgment and you need to know the rules to determine what is right or wrong,” said La Pine junior Riley Allison, “So, knowing all the rules makes you a better wrestler.”
They are also learning some perspective on what refs must go through and how to handle it.
“Definitely handling the coaches and all the parents yelling at you when you make a bad call or even when you don’t make a bad call, you have somebody yelling at you,” said sophomore Riley Flack.
When the mentorship first began, no one knew how bad this nationwide referee shortage would be for most sports. But thanks to the program, the High Desert does not need wrestling refs. It’s doing just fine.
“With all the shortages and everything going on with officials, wrestling is one of those things because of this Orange shirt program,” said Aaron Flack, “We have these high school kids getting certified at an early age and getting paid to do it.”
The program that started in La Pine made its way through most of Central Oregon. Culver and Crook County wrestling have both been heavily involved in the mentorship referee program.