The Maine Principals’ Association has created a new position called the Commissioner of Officials to oversee and advise game officials and, just as importantly, encourage more people to join the officiating ranks.

Jeff Benson will become the MPA’s first Commissioner of Officials, a part-time position charged with recruiting and retaining game officials across the state. Sun Journal file photo

Retired athletic director and veteran game official Jeff Benson, 62, of Auburn, said his primary focus as the first MPA Commissioner of Officials will be to work with the state’s many officiating boards to increase membership.

“Retention and the recruiting of officials is my key responsibility. It’s a huge issue,” Benson said of the part-time position. “Obviously I’m going to have to meet with every one of those groups and see where their needs are and try to come up with strategies to get people more involved.”

Maine has seen a significant decline in game officials in several sports, compounded by many current officials being past retirement age. According to a national survey, 70 percent of new referees and umpires quit by the end of their third year, driven away by a combination of abusive fans, relatively low pay and the inability to get varsity game assignments.

“Instead of individual efforts by one board in one region, it can create some statewide initiatives,” said Mike Bisson, an MPA assistant executive director.

Several sports have multiple officiating boards. For example, basketball has five regional boards in Maine, each responsible for game assignments, evaluations and promotions. Soccer has eight. Baseball has six.


“The biggest thing we’re looking for in any officials’ group is consistency,” Benson said. “Do they all have an evaluation system? Do they all have an ethics committee? Do they have a that structure so when our guys and gals have questions they know who they can see?”

The only sport that has had an officials’ commissioner was basketball, a position created in 1955 to help quell a potential strike by basketball refs. In the past, the Maine Basketball Commissioner was paid by the MPA. When Peter Webb announced he would be retiring after 27 years from that position, the MPA began looking at ways to improve consistency and communication with officials across all sports, Bisson said.

The Maine Basketball Commission will continue to exist and be in charge of assigning officials for state tournament games. Its coordinator position will now be self-funded.

Benson will not have any direct involvement with game assignment.

The Commissioner of Officials will also chair the MPA’s Officials Advisory Committee and oversee a rule – new for the 2019-20 school year – that all officials must be fingerprinted and undergo a criminal background check.

A 1979 graduate of UMaine-Farmington, Benson had a 39-year career in education, including 28 combined years as an athletic director at Lisbon, Gray-New Gloucester, Edward Little, and Oxford Hills (2003-17) before finishing with a one-year return to Edward Little.

Benson has been a basketball official for 35 years and a baseball umpire for 29 years. He officiated soccer for 15 years.

“I just know where both sides can come from,” Benson said.

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