Sports

THURSDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: Moore County, Huntland rivalry football game will be played on Thursday this year

The TSSAA will move 20 games per week to either Thursday or Saturday to address a shortage of football officials. The Moore County at Huntland game the final week of the regular season will be one of them. (File Photo)

LYNCHBURG, Tenn. —It’s one Friday in the fall that every Raider fan circles. But this year, the annual Moore County versus Huntland rivalry game will be played on Thursday thanks to a scheduling move by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA). The Battle of the Blue will be just one of a large number of the state’s high school football games played on either Thursday or Saturday nights this fall due to the lack of officials.

TSSAA officials announced the move following a called February meeting of the Board of Control in Murfreesboro in February.

“There are always games to call.”

A scarcity of youth sports officials isn’t a new problem but one that may have been made worse by the COVID pandemic. Many older, at-risk officials hung up their cleats during pandemic – leaving a void. Other officials report being frustrated by abusive behavior from coaches and fans – a trend that’s nudging some high school sports officials to walk away.

One area official we spoke to said that more and more veteran officials are aging out of officiating while fewer younger candidates are stepping up.

Mike Northcutt, who retired from officiating in central, middle Tennessee this past year after 50 years, says an injury forced his retirement.

“I blew out my knee last June and just can’t keep up with the kids on the field the way I used to,” he said. “There’s a lot of us who have to let it go due to age or injury.”

Northcutt says that his crew covered from Wayne County to Franklin County and could have called games five nights a week if they wanted to based on demand.

“Whether it’s Pop Warner, middle school, JV, or high school, there are always game going on who need officials.”

Too many games, not enough officials

According to the TSSAA, they estimate there are enough officials to work 150 games with a five-person crew each week. However, on any particular Friday night in the fall there are around 170 games planned. Their solution for the 2022-23 season will be to move 20 games per week from Friday night to either a Thursday or a Saturday.

The Moore County at Huntland game in October will be one of those games. The final game of the Raiders 2022-23 regular season will be played on Thursday, October 27 instead of Friday. Another District 5A game, Eagleville at Fayetteville will move to Thursday, October 27. Defending 4A State Champions the Tullahoma Wildcats will also move a couple of games to Thursday. Their season opener against Shelbyville on August 18 and district showdown against Montgomery Central on October 6 will both be Thursday games. {For a complete list of all Thursday/Saturday games, click here.}

“It’s become a real struggle to find officials for games,” Raider Head Coach Kris White told The Times. “The Huntland coaching staff and I got together and decided to offer to play our game on a Thursday night.”

Coach White says he made the proactive move in part to hopefully avoid losing a home game due to the official shortage.

The TSSAA officials says they are actively recruiting new officials with some schools sponsoring a new officials startup costs which is usually $350 for uniform, insurance and other fees.

Northcutt says official on the field make $110 per high school football and that crews usually ride share together to save on fuel costs. Anyone wishing to become an official is urged to contact the TSSAA by visiting their website. Northcutt also says he’d be more than happy to speak to any area person interested in getting started in officiating. You can reach him via email at mbncutt@yahoo.com. •

{The Lynchburg Times is the only locally owned newspaper in Lynchburg and also the only woman-owned newspaper in Tennessee. We cover Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}

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