The Long View

by TC Lane, USTA Chief Operating Officer

Armchair Quarterbacks

Here’s your chance to shine

Almost weekly, I get a call that sounds something like this: “Hey, TC, we need an associate judge. Any good leads?” This kind of request is the same for many other positions around the racetrack, such as starters, paddock judges, charters and program directors, identifiers, and most recently, outriders. Although we do not license outriders, many tracks lean on the USTA for assistance.

My answer is usually one that leaves the requester, as well as me, disappointed. Depending on the time of the year, filling these open positions has become quite the challenge. The pool of interested candidates is extremely shallow and getting worse each year. Most of the really good officials are working full time already, so they’re off the list.

We are not alone in this area, unfortunately. Around the country, baseball umpires and referees in all sports are in short supply because of a challenging environment. Many men and women are traveling great distances to ref or ump a game for $75, all to be yelled at by obnoxious parents who still believe little Johnny is a Division 1 prospect at State University—you’ve witnessed the type. As a result, many games are now being canceled due to the shortage of athletic officials, and it continues to worsen.

While we realize that we can’t fix the woes of baseball or football officiating, I hope that we can address our own issues in racing. I have never been to a track that had to cancel due to no officials being available to work, but who’s to say that won’t happen down the road? (In full disclosure, I’m not including any failure to appear due to some mechanical breakdown that prevented their service.)

If supply and demand were to play into this overall equation, there has never been a better time to seek an opportunity to be a racing official. If you are a fan, handicapper, existing horseman or horse owner, you can join the ranks and become a USTA-licensed racing official. Just step up and take the plunge.

The industry needs quality people serving in these roles. This brings me to the term “quality.” To obtain it, I strongly believe that we must invest much more in this area. Poor compensation packages will oftentimes result in poor-quality candidates. We are racing for way too much money around the country to settle for anything less than great quality, so for those that are seeking officials, compensation is key. This isn’t the case in each instance, but it is in some.

When we get calls from the tracks or states, we always ask the dreaded questions regarding the number of days available to work, compensation package and so forth, in an attempt to grab the best person for the job in question. Offering two-days-a-week pay for $100 a day isn’t going to make a sound person jump ship from their current situation very often. If you’re a track operator or a state racing commission staffer, please look at your compensation packages and ask yourself, “Would I work for that?” If the answer is no, get it fixed sooner than later.

How can we help if you’re interested? There are a few possibilities.

Again, the USTA will be hosting an internship for racing officials in 2022. New for this year, we are looking at providing multiple intern opportunities. The USTA internships provide a daily stipend for participation, plus lodging and tuition for the next available Racing Officials Accreditation Program 60-hour course. The details are almost finalized, so make sure you visit www.ustrotting.com in the coming days for more information on this offer. As with the 2021 program, the intern would move directly into a role as a working race official at the conclusion of the 30-day program. The graduate from the 2021 program, John Zawistowski, is currently on staff with the Indiana Horse Racing Commission at Hoosier Park after stints at the Red Mile and Pompano Park. He is evidence that the placement process works.

If being in the stand isn’t your cup of tea, there are other roles that you could pursue. I would suggest reaching out to your local racetrack to see if there are any positions currently available and start there.

Another option is to explore the previously mentioned Racing Officials Accreditation Program. There, you will have an opportunity to participate in an accelerated academic and practical experience that would provide a strong foundation for further employment down the road. Is it easy? No, it isn’t. But as mentioned before, the industry needs quality. To find out more about this option, visit www.horseracingofficials.com/. Completion of this program does not guarantee employment, but it does give you a leg up on an application.

Lastly, you can always call or email me or our racetrack operations and licensing manager, Michele Kopiec, at the USTA office. Between the two of us, we can surely guide you in the right direction. The USTA website provides a reasonable overview of opportunities for interested parties. From there, you can explore each capacity and see where you would like to start. To visit, go to members.ustrotting.com/officials.cfm.

I referenced outriders earlier, so to revisit that remark, there are even some initial discussions internally to explore a training and certification process for outriders. The conversations are in their infancy, so stay tuned for further information on that front. We do realize that a need exists.

Have a great racing season. We look forward to helping you start your journey by becoming a USTA licensed racing official.

 

TC Lane

The views contained in this column are those of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association. To comment on this column, email us at readerforum@ustrotting.com.

 

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